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Stop the Blame Game

 
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Stop the Blame Game
by Mel Brooks - Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 8:29 PM
 

Who do you blame?

Mel Brooks, Senior Lecturer: Accounting & Finance, WitsBusiness School

 

 

One of the biggest challenges facing South African managers is that of changing their locus of control. More jargon you might say.  Well yes, but it is nevertheless an interesting concept and one which is relevant to our local situation. If you have an external locus of control, you see everything that happens to you as the fault of the government, the market, the economy, management, the unions – in fact anyone but yourself.  On the other hand, people who have an internal locus of control operate from a perspective that it is they alone who will determine the outcome of their efforts. There is of course a continuum between the two extremes and while most individuals will recognize themselves as being somewhere along that line, there is a tendency for the ‘external locus’ end of the spectrum to be somewhat oversubscribed.

 

Closely linked to the above concept of locus of control and blame, is the issue of taking credit for positive outcomes in which you really had no hand.  I refer here to the silence of managers when their companies do exceptionally well, not due to their efforts, but as a result of the weak Rand.  The outstanding success of exporters just over a year ago is a case in point. Now that the rand has strengthened, however, and their results are not looking quite as good, they loudly proclaim that it is the due to the Rand’s strength. About a month ago a captain of industry was doing just this on a television programme – while elsewhere, the Governor of the Reserve Bank was saying that exporters should stop whining about the strong rand and focus on their productivity in order to be competitive – he made a good point. In blaming other people or circumstances we lose sight of the core issues. South African business has a productivity problem. A weak rand does help exports in the short term, but what of imported input costs?

 

Let’s look at this issue of blame from another angle. Many individuals blame their lack of advancement (or loss of jobs) on affirmative action – forgetting, of course, that they may well be in the positions they hold because of the very real, yet at that time unnamed, affirmative action policy of the former regime. The reality is that all South Africans have to some extent or other been affected, either negatively or positively, by some form of affirmative action. Those who complain about the unfairness of their employment situation tend to lay the blame on external factors. Perhaps they would do better to focus on internal factors such as their not having kept their skills or knowledge current or a failure on their part to adapt to a diverse working environment.

 

Relationship problems provide yet another prime setting for the laying of blame. Most breakdowns in organisational effectiveness are caused by problems between people – problems that stem either from organisational structures that inhibit the flow of information or undermine the power of managers in the structure; or personality clashes. Here too an external locus of control plays a major role. Those who do not see a problem with the structure will blame the people, and those who do not see a problem with the people, will blame the structure. Truth is, organisational structures consist of people. The effective manager will cut through the bureaucracy and solve the people problems by negotiation. Remember, in life you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.

 

And when all else fails, blame the economy, the government or even big business. Yet at this time there are businesses in Argentina and Brazil …….Venezuela and Zimbabwe that are operating profitably. Why? Because the management of those successful companies are not wasting time looking for where to lay the blame for poor profits or losses and, let’s face it there is a long list of things or people we can blame for most things. Rather, they are looking for opportunities – breakdowns in service delivery and shortages are not viewed as problems but as sources of business.

 

How do we get past this culture of blame? What is needed is managers who behave more like entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are good at opportunity identification. They are strong negotiators, good at selling (themselves and their ideas) and topping the list, they believe in themselves – they have an internal locus of control.

 

Many organisations express the desire to have their managers behave more ‘entrepreneurially’. With entrepreneurship being more of an art that a science, this is not an easy objective to meet.  You can’t lay it down in policies; you can’t really achieve it through training or education.  What is needed is a climate that fosters entrepreneurial behaviour; a climate in which managers are encouraged to seek opportunities, to negotiate solutions and to believe in themselves.  Setting limits is not conducive to entrepreneurial behaviour so managers need to know that successful entrepreneurs don’t take risks – they manage them.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they need to take responsibility for their actions – they need to operate from an internal locus of control.

 

Life is too short for the blame game.