Posted by: knightbird | July 29, 2010

One Oh S**t Counters Ten Attaboys/Attagirls

I just had a conversation with one of my employee’s about the positive work environment here at Chugachmiut. He described it as an Oasis among work environments, as the kind of place where someone crawling in the sand in a desert views as a positive destination. He described other workplaces where you can accumulate a lot of Attaboys/Attagirls, but that the Attaboys/Attagirls give way immediately to one Oh S**t. You are immediately judged according to the one Oh S**t. Did that bring back memories. The way I have described blame and shame workplaces is more kind, but I think this description resonates more with people.

As we talked about what it takes to build and sustain this kind of workplace, it was clear that most employee’s resist the changes as they are started. Their previous experience makes them very insular and wary. They distrust the motives of others. Gossip, rumor and innuendo are heard and critically examined and discussed in order to try and find out what is happening in the workplace. Every bit of anger (the Oh S**t’s) is quickly disseminated through the entire organization. And even more so, we often get defined by our screw-ups. We adopt hiding behaviors, and blaming behaviors, to avoid the “Oh S**ts.”

I learned that poor coaches do this frequently, as well. My mentor, Tom House, has described baseball as a game of failure. This means you can find lots of “Oh S**ts” to blame kids for. In a travel baseball game in California, my son hit a home run in one game. As he crossed third base, his coach yelled that he believed he had missed touching second base. The Field Umpire never called a thing and the home run stood. For the rest of the trip, my son had to endure constantly being berated for “missing second base.” Interestingly enough, the mistakes committed by the coach’s son and another favored player didn’t merit any continued blame. And their successes (Attaboys) were recognized.

Well, lots of bosses do this as well. We make one mistake (or perceived mistake that happens in our area while on our watch) and we are defined by that mistake, despite all of our successes.

We try to make sure that “One Oh S**t” does not “Counter Ten Attaboys/Attagirls.” Screw-ups are often only defects that need to be fixed. Once they are fixed, the fix needs to be sustained. If that happens, then we need to give an Attaboy/Attagirl for the employee who brought the defect forward, helped eliminate it, and sustained the fix. It’s a positive, not a negative.

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