Taking a look at the blame game in the workplace -the kick the dog phenomenon
Prime the pump
April 25, 2023
Taking a look at the blame game in the workplace -the kick the dog phenomenon

Belle: “Can you believe that woman tried to throw me under the bus!?”

Me: “How so?”

Belle: She told the CEO that I always submit my monthly reports late, hence the reason for her late submission.”

Me: “Was she correct?”

Belle: “Of course not.”

Me: “How did you respond to the allegations?”

Belle: “I said nothing, but I plan to go to the CEO to throw her under the bus.”

Me: “How come you said nothing?”

Belle: “Because I didn’t want to throw my manager under the bus, the truth is, whenever I submit my reports early, both would tell me they cannot deal with them right now and I should bring them back at a later date.”

Me: “Was your manager present when she told the CEO that?”

Belle: “Yes”.

Me: “How did he respond?”

Belle: “He said nothing.”

Me: “I commend you for your loyalty to your manager. If the facts are as you have stated, I would have thought that he would have spoken up in your defense and take responsibility for the late submission of the reports. However, I would not recommend that you engage the CEO to assign blame. When the opportunity presented itself for you to direct his attention to your superiors, you opted to stay silent so to engage him privately to assign blame to one of your superiors could hurt your credibility.”

Last week, we started looking at the blame game culture in the workplace, an example of what was played out above. Today we are looking at the “kick-the-dog” phenomenon, this refers to the tendency of lashing out at innocent targets when we are angry or frustrated but cannot direct our anger or frustration to the source of who/what upsets us. Some years ago, I was sent a letter by an Accountant to be vetted for one of his staff. In summary, after an external audit of a company’s financial procedures, the Auditors flagged certain procedures that were not best practice and formally wrote to his company. In return, the Accountant was given a written reprimand from the Managing Director. He (the Accountant) was irate with the Managing Director about the written warning and concluded that he was going to transfer the blame to one of his direct reports by suspending him for not following the company’s procedures. I advised him that it doesn’t work like that. As the head of the department and the person who was responsible for reviewing the direct report’s work, he was ultimately responsible for the operations of the department. Therefore, he should take responsibility, come up with a plan to fix the issues, including how he would ensure that the procedures were consistently followed, and move forward.

Louis Carter in an article “5 Ways to Stop a Blame Culture said “A blame culture manifests when employees pass responsibility to others for mistakes or lack of accountability. Blame cultures reinforce themselves when managers blame direct reports or lower-level employees rather than taking responsibility themselves.  Taking ownership of your job and position requires responsibility and accountability. It’s easy to get into a habit of blaming others for mistakes and creating excuses to avoid certain tasks. A blame culture within an organization hurts productivity and quality of work. It breaks down the workplace’s social structures, putting employees against each other and removing trust. Rather than encouraging collaboration, creativity, and support, blaming and excusing lead employees to feel both vulnerable and uninvested in their job.”

As a leader in an organization where the blame game is evident, Nathanael Fast, an assistant professor of Management and Organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business suggest the following steps to stop the blame game culture:

Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Resist the temptation. People will respect you for it and you would be better able to manage the blame game in your organization.

When you do blame, do so constructively. When it’s necessary to point out people’s mistakes, do it in a non-threatening manner and for the purpose of identifying the lessons to be learnt.
Set an example by confidently taking ownership for failures. Studies have shown that people who are psychologically secure are less likely to play the blame game, therefore, foster a sense of security in your organization.

Always focus on learning. Ensure that employees know that it is okay to make mistakes and furthermore that it is expected. Emphasise the lessons learnt rather than the mistakes made.

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