Culture of Blame
There is nothing wrong with failure if you learn something from it—especially if you use what you learned to fix a problem.
I had an experience several years ago that illustrates this point. It was a Saturday, and one of our press operators was running the program for an event at our performing arts facility. The pressman noticed a mistake—a photo had an incorrect caption, as I recall—so he shut down the press. And he went home, but that’s another story.
On Monday morning we operated in crisis mode because the performance was that night, and the job wasn’t as far along as it should have been. We got the job done on time, and then we did what most of us do: We started looking for someone to blame. I’ll never forget the big grin on my operations manager’s face as he told me that the error was the customer’s fault because he didn’t look at the last proof.
The next day the customer came to my office and he was steamed. I mean his face was PMS 186 red. I told him he should thank us for catching the mistake and besides, he had to share the blame because he had not looked at the last proof. He said he hadn’t looked at the last proof because he was in a meeting and he couldn’t. He didn’t want to hold up the job. He went on to say that he had already looked at four or five proofs and didn’t think we could screw it up after that. In fact, the error the pressman found did not appear in the earlier versions of the proof, something we have all experienced.
What did we do? We re-examined our proof process and asked ourselves how we could improve it. Turns out the proof process was designed for our convenience, not for our customers. We threw proofs into campus mail or our own delivery system with little regard for what the customer might need or how proof approval might affect the production schedule. Mostly we just pushed jobs to the back burner while proofs were out, and if the proof caused the job to miss the due date, we changed the date. This time it bit us on the backside.
But there’s nothing wrong with failure if you learn from it, and that’s what we tried to do. We hired a part-time student, rented a car from the university motor pool and started a proof delivery service. The student’s job was to get proofs approved, and if a proof had a short fuse, like the performing arts program, the student was to wait until it was convenient to the customer to approve it. The customers loved it because we were treating them like...well, customers.
What I took away from this experience was that we often think about problems in the context of a culture of blame. Stuff happens and we look for someone to blame. A job’s late? Customer kept the proof too long. Wrong paper? Customer forgot to tell us what she wanted. Typos? Customer didn’t check the proof.
Wouldn’t it be better if we just looked for solutions? When the outsourcing bell tolls, managers that go out of their way to help customers fix problems and avoid playing the blame card will have a much better shot at survival.
Ray Chambers, CGCM, MBA, has invested over 30 years managing and directing printing plants, copy centers, mail centers and award-winning document management facilities in higher education and government.
Most recently, Chambers served as vice president and chief information officer at Juniata College. Chambers is currently a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education Administration at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU). His research interests include outsourcing in higher education and its impact on support services in higher education and managing support services. He also consults (Chambers Management Group) with leaders in both the public and private sectors to help them understand and improve in-plant printing and document services operations.