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Rethinking Blame: A powerful lever to Improve Engagement & Productivity

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

In the last post, we highlighted the importance of increasing engagement and creating a culture of cooperation to improve mine productivity. We highlighted various obstacles that need to be tackled and showed how a Flow Room can address this. In the Ted Talk, "As work gets more complex, six rules to simplify", Yves Morieux details the engagement productivity conundrum. Why is productivity and engagement so poor? Is it a chicken-and-egg situation? Do low engagement result in low productivity? Or do low productivity force managers to push employees too hard, leading to low productivity? We agree with his view that low engagement and low productivity are the outcomes of the same root cause; our traditional hard and soft management techniques cannot effectively address the increasing complicatedness and complexity of the work environment. Pushing more KPIs harder tend to make employees favour their measurements at the expense of others so that cooperation reduces. It takes tremendous effort from employees and managers to overcome poor coordination- engagement reduces, and productivity does not improve. Traditional hard (creating new reporting structures or interfaces) and soft (psychological interventions aimed at improving interpersonal relationships) interventions may help, but more is needed. We highlighted how a Flow Room can help in the previous post, but there is one critical component we have yet to mention—the use of reward and blame. Yves recommends that we reward those who cooperate towards the system's performance (system production rate) and blame those who do not. In the same talk, the CEO of The Lego Group, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, says, "Blame is not for failure; it is for failing to help or ask for help." And Yves says, "It changes everything. Suddenly it becomes in my interest to be transparent about my real weaknesses, my actual forecast, because I know I will not be blamed if I fail, but if I fail to help or ask for help. " When employees feel peer pressure to do the right thing and take ownership of their work, managers are less likely to need to intervene. This is because employees are more likely to self-correct their behaviour when they know that their peers are watching and that peers will hold them accountable for their actions. And on the positive side, their contribution will be visible and recognised. As a result, managers can focus more on developing their employees and building positive relationships rather than having to spend time assigning blame and correcting mistakes. Accountability shifts towards the frontline, where good decisions can be made quickly, freeing up managerial time and attention. Apply this lever well, and you will be amazed at the transformation in your organisational culture and the results achieved.

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