The Blame Game

I never liked watching “The Apprentice” but my family loves it. So I thought I’d give it another try, but had to stop watching after 10 minutes, when Sir Alan Sugar said to a group, who lost a particular challenge… “Go away and find out who’s to blame”.

That is a cameo of traditional macho management that takes its values from the playground and the marketplace.

The following is a description of the show from the Personnel Today blog:

“Sugar revels in his role of business demigod and wields his stubby finger with relish each week, and the audience figures suggest that this celebration of blame his gripped the nation.”

The blogger goes on to share his opinion that like ‘greed’, ‘blame’ is good… and that we (HR) should do more it!

Hang on. Let’s hit the pause button. Or better still the ‘reflect’ button in our minds.

What kind of society do we create by this kind of thinking?

  • Identify who is to blame.
  • Get rid. Replace. Tell them off. Give them what for.
  • Discuss the problem and find the solution.
  • Get in a consultant/expert in to solve the problem.

My sense is that this leads to (and maintains) a macho management, negativity, dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, blame environment.

It’s not jut conceptual. This ‘worldview’ encourages certain types of behaviour. In a blame culture, people behave in blaming ways. These behaviours are self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. It breeds a suspicion, politicking, backbiting, draconian organisational practice and non-risk taking. In these cultures, feedback such as “you should do better next time”, and even training and development events are seen as threats.

I am now going to make a bold claim!

We can change our social world by changing our organising grammar to:

  • Let’s discuss a helpful process for creating change.
  • How can we inquire into and build on the best of what is?
  • What can we help people to learn?
  • How can we value everyone’s contribution?
  • Who else, amongst us, do we need to involve?
  • What processes do we need to put in place to help us improve continuously?
  • How can we develop, coach and mentor people through a project?

In the words of one of my favourite song, its ‘more than words’. It’s about an attitude and a particular perspective on life and how we want our human communities to be (including our work communities).

In the workplace, this counter-cultural way of thinking can potentially help our organisations become more life-giving and supportive places to be. This in turn leads to productively, innovation and creativity… through a sense of collaborative endeavour.

In my humble opinion, this approach is more likely to lead to the achievement of organisational goals than a culture based on shame and blame. Who would you rather work for… Pixar or Amstrad – take your pick.

In a Christian setting, we could and should go further by asking ourselves… “How might we create a ’forgiveness’ rather than a ‘blame’ culture”? What can we do to enable and help our people behave in constructive, encouraging and forgiving ways?

Human or Inhuman Resource Management?

I am old enough to remember hearing the term Human Resource Management for the first time. I was a young personnel practitioner in a blue chip company, sitting in the audience of an in-house Conference. I can still hear the Keynote Speaker say “The time has come for Personnel to decide whether you are here to serve the cats or the cat owners”. He bellowed, “I’m here to tell you that it is a no brainer. It’s the cat owners”.  He went on to say that Human Resource Management (HRM) was a way to maximise human potential by aligning the individual to the organisational goals, which at the end of the day was increasing profits for the shareholders.

HRM brought with it the thinking that employees are not merely overhead costs, but people were ‘resources’ or ‘assets’ that had a value/worth linked to their economic utility. My former tutor at King’s College, London, Tom Keenoy (1990) wrote that HRM’s prime objective was to legitimise the management ideology that strives to intensify work through the use of labour.

I guess this makes sense in the commercial sector where the employment relationship is characterised by employers’ desire to maximise profits. In this context, HRM is about increasing productivity. For me, this is at odds with its claims to be ‘human’, oriented for the good and well being of people. At best, it is an attempt to use psychology in a transactional context where the relationship is intrinsically unequal. Some argue that the move away from regulation to the ‘winning of hearts and minds’ merely masks the fact that the end game is still control and conformity. In this sense, HRM is a means to an end.

Is this too harsh? Judge for yourself.

In your experience, how has HR practices structured social relations in your organisation? How is power used, and by whom and for what purpose… particularly in the way that job analysis, job evaluation, work plans, selection & recruitment, performance appraisals, and disciplinary and grievance procedures are done?

A critical view is that these ‘management tools’ allow individuals to be objectified, classified, measured and ordered in a particular way, creating such things as leaders and followers; and then maintaining this social order?

Many Christian organisations have introduced HRM because this is the self-evident, professional thing to do. Surely it is time that we ask how the ideology of the market place (HRM) is influencing, even changing, our culture, ethos, beliefs and identity in the process?

Needless-to-say, I feel that Christians should be more discerning about what practice we adopt; and be proactive about exploring biblically based forms of organising (and leadership).

Why am I drawing attention to this? Am I biting the hand that feeds me? According to the French philosopher Michel Foucault “by showing that things are not as self-evident as one believed, transformation becomes very urgent, very difficult and quite possible”.