When something goes wrong, there’s rarely a shortage of blame to go around. Self-protection mode engages and people end up wide eyed and pointing in both directions like The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz – and that’s a tame response! There are also people who will happily hop on their soap box and fashion a scarlet letter for every individual who can be charged with the crime. For example, just the other day I bought a bottle of water from a mini-mart at a gas station when the woman making change for me ran out of dollar bills. She had more in the other register – it was no big deal at all, but I got the deep breath, eye roll, slam the drawer shut routine as she explained that the situation was due to her atrocious co-worker, Lauren. I think she was trying to make me feel better because it was going to cost me a full 30 seconds of my day – but the truth is she just seemed unprofessional and drew attention to something I wouldn’t have even noticed.
This is just a teensy peek into a big world of blame – but I suspect you’ve just conjured your own memory of a situation similar to the one I described. The funny part about it is that it usually comes from really well-intentioned people! Those who really care what customers think sometimes get nervous about causing disappointment or let-down and they miss the memo about embracing the “we” and instead go straight for the excuses and blame making things worse. Any of these sound familiar?
- Sorry you had to wait so long, we’re really short staffed – 3 people called in sick today!
- Sorry we’re out of coffee, the delivery guy is always late on Wednesdays!
- Sorry we don’t have your hotel room available, my boss always overbooks us and makes me deliver the bad news!
Ownership is a really big concept with a lot of moving parts – this concept happens to be a big one. The more you can do to instill ownership, the less likely this sort of behavior will pop up and degrade your hard work. This is a hard one to train – it’s more of a coaching/culture combination. If your people feel confident about the teamwork, the management, and the processes – you’re off to a good start. From there, be a good example of accepting responsibility – if you make excuses internally, your people will take their cues and do the same with your customers.
Employees sometimes forget that to a customer, a disappointment is rarely with an individual, but lies with the organization as a whole. Customer facing people have the honor and chore of accepting the accolades and complaints on behalf of the whole organization – so it’s important to remember the responsibility and ownership piece. What are you doing to encourage ownership instead of blame?