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Is the Blame Game Bringing You Down?

Proving someone else wrong isn't the most effective way to get things right. When you "win" the blame game, you actually lose. Here's how to stop blaming, and start taking charge, once and for all.
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Rocking it out as an entrepreneur has heavily underscored the futility of the infamous blame game.

It has also reinforced the invaluable art of addressing mistakes directly, swiftly and respectfully, learning and applying the associated lessons, then cleanly moving on. By blame game, I mean when business leaders--and their staffs--forget their own role in problems, or use issues as an opportunity to persecute people instead of finding solutions.

Especially as a small business owner, I simply don't have the luxury of allowing every issue to grow into a crisis, including the time it takes to point fingers all over the place when things go wrong. I am already vulnerable enough competing with larger companies, winning new accounts, and exceeding current clients' expectations. I am vulnerable when ensuring that our cash-flow is diverse and inclusive of multi-year contracts that allow us to forecast revenue and go after exciting--but shorter-term or riskier--opportunities.

For example, my company's first year out the gate, we landed a large contract with a major airline. It was a major coup for us, one that opened many doors and infused a nice confidence boost into our early operations. So imagine the dismay I felt the next cycle, when like a perfect storm, not only did the airline decide not to pick up any of our wine, but also one of our major retailers dropped the ball on a programming initiative.

Let me not even downplay things: I was initially heated, because the airline made changes to its process that weren't communicated to us, resulting in our company not being given a fair shake.

When things are bad, everybody wants to blame everyone else instead of turning inside and looking at oneself. Trying to resist this, I looked inside, and after reflecting, I was reminded that sometimes "winning" and sometimes "losing" is the nature of business--things shift and plans go in different directions. I also realized that if we had devoted more resources (scarce as they were!) to managing the account, there were opportunities where we could have foreseen some of the issues in advance. At the very least, if we would have taken more time to stay on their radar and build multiple internal champions, then maybe neither disappointment would have happened. Bottom line: I was at fault too. So I decided to learn the hard lesson and move forward.

That's why my company's philosophy is to celebrate the awesome stuff, not sweat the small stuff, and to immediately address the big stuff.

The same goes for my employees. One could argue that the blame game is even more toxic internally. Especially since my wife and I run a fun, thriving, small business, I take advantage of the unique opportunity to help foster a culture that attracts and retains highly accountable "mini-entrepreneurs" (vs. cogs who have slipped into the all too common, fear-based, cover-your-ass mentality). In exchange, I recognize the reality that innovators can't always play it safe, so my team--including myself--must inevitably have the latitude to make some mistakes.

That's why my company's philosophy is to celebrate the awesome stuff, not sweat the small stuff, and to immediately address the big stuff. It is unhealthy to stay quiet about critical oversights that could lead to festering, ugly problems that could have been avoided had you worked respectfully with your team to nip the issues in the bud. The types of things that we immediately address include: repeated, sloppy mistakes; flawed logic over time; behaviors that don't align with our positive company culture; not sharing responsibility for issues that involve multiple people; or the dreaded "throwing others under the bus!" However, when we address such mistakes, we use them as teachable, coachable moments to learn and move the company forward. There's a reason why we hire great people, so when they mess up we owe it to them to scrap the blame game, and instead give them the benefit of the doubt and gracefully deal with the situation--no scarlet letters wanted or needed.

Last updated: May 3, 2012

KHARY CUFFE | Columnist | Co-Founder, Heritage Link Brands

Khary Cuffe is co-founder and CFO of Heritage Link Brands. In addition, he has served as a marketer for the Procter & Gamble Company where he was responsible for a global multi-functional team.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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