Are your employees passing the blame?

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Personal responsibility: Staying focused on what one can control directly – principally one’s own thoughts, words, and actions --- and controlling one’s responses in the face of factors outside one’s own control.
Here is the reality: In any situation, there are factors beyond our control. For example, I feel gravity and time are constantly holding me back! And in any situation there are factors within our control: Our own thoughts, words, and actions. Almost anyone can focus on those outside factors or those inside factors.

In fact, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that most people – of all ages – have a tendency to point to outside factors beyond the control of the individual when explaining their own short-comings and failures, not to mention the successes of others.
Funnily enough, most people also have a strong tendency to point to factors within the direct control of the individual when it comes to our own successes as well as the failures and short-comings of others. So at least the good news is that most people know how to focus on factors within the control of the individual. It’s just that we take our focus off those factors when we make excuses, blame others, and complain.
When it comes to teaching personal responsibility, the key is keeping the focus on factors within the control of the individual. Teaching them to ask themselves every step of the way: What is within my control right now? Where will I focus my attention and energy? What are my options? What’s the plan? What are my next steps? What are my next thoughts, words, and actions?
Consider the following factors that people in the workplace commonly list when asked to brainstorm factors that get in their way at work.
  • Resource constraints -- insufficient information, people, material, or tools
  • Limited time
  • Too much work
  • Other people not doing their part
  • Things are constantly changing
  • Competing priorities
  • Distance
  • Weather
  • Company policies, rules, regulations, and procedures
  • The way things have always been done around here
  • Too many low priority distractions
  • Interruptions
  • Conflict between and among employees
  • My manager is often unavailable
  • Unclear lines of authority
  • I answer to too many different people
  • Inconsistency from one manager to another
I’m sure you can you think of recent examples of many of these. Think of one example of one of these factors you’ve experienced recently.  It is very easy to focus on the extent to which that factor outside your control constrained your options and left you powerless. Right?
Focusing on that moment – where it is easy to focus on the factors outside one’s own control – is the key to teaching young people to increase their sense of personal responsibility.  In our career seminars with young employees, we ask them to think of examples of these factors outside their own control – examples within their own experience that have left them feeling powerless.
Then we teach them to ask themselves:
What did YOU do? (usually the answer is “nothing”)
What could YOU have done differently in retrospect?
What were your options?
What thoughts, words, and actions could you have taken?
Next we ask them to look ahead and ask another set of questions:
Can you anticipate this factor getting in your way in the future?
What will be outside my control?
What will be inside my control? (My own thoughts, words, actions)
What options might I have?
What concrete steps will I take to make the greatest contribution I can?
We call this set of questions, “response power.” Learning to use “response power” is a very powerful way to learn and grow when it comes to taking greater personal responsibility.   The idea is to think about those times when it feels like “there really is nothing YOU can do” and then reframe those situations to focus on the fact that there is always “something YOU can do.”
  • STaylor on 2015-09-29 12:59:18 PM

    Ugh! Psychobabble. Those all sound like legitimate reasons for people to have difficulty getting their work done. Perhaps you should focus on listening to the problems rather than always blaming the employee and telling them to fix what others should have fixed if they were good managers.

  • Sue on 2015-09-30 10:58:01 AM

    I agree, managers need to work with employees to see the gaps and to work toward employee autonomy to manage their work and make a difference

  • Francois Jean on 2015-09-30 3:11:16 PM

    STaylor, thou protest too much. The ideas put forward must have hit a nerve close to home. Thee would be served well in practicing the suggestions...maybe?

  • STaylor on 2015-10-01 12:20:26 AM

    Hardly Francois Jean, as a business owner/manager I look at things from a managerial perspective. I have a healthy balance as regards my locus of control, thank you. It seems to me that if you constantly ride your employees for the problems beyond their control they will leave their jobs and you will have a high employee turnover. Good employees are hard to replace. This article makes one wonder who is passing the blame, it will certainly keep a bad manager in their position if they can lay blame on their employees. The only 'soul searching' the employee will do is in looking for another job.

  • Bennett on 2015-10-13 4:00:39 PM

    STaylor's criticism here seems off base. Lesson here seems simple enough: teaching workers how to figure out for themselves what they control and what they not. This is a training suggestion--the traditional obligation of managers--not an employee-scoring suggestion. (It could become one, of course, if an employee is not even willing to train up on figuring out what one is responsible for or not: who wants employees who don't bother to think about--or don't believe in trying to figure out--what they're responsible for.)

  • DVB on 2015-10-13 4:35:13 PM

    My favourite response, "Thou [doth] protest too much..."

    Made my day. Thanks.

  • Shine on 2015-12-07 3:43:14 AM

    It happens everywhere.

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