Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > Work out what went wrong, not who to blame

Work out what went wrong, not who to blame

The other week I saw a post on the web from my pal #theFMGuru Martin Pickard to say that he was writing about accident investigation in #facilitiesmanagement, and how it was not about blame, but about learning.

That is so very true and something that I’ve been passionate about myself for many years. One of my early jobs was in a major insurance business in the city and I used to have to collate papers from accident investigators into the files, and sometimes to retrieve cases from the microfiche (remember that?) archives.

Working out why something has gone wrong and trying to put it right isn’t just confined to accidents though, but the dispassionate techniques are a useful tool for working out why projects and plans haven’t worked.

As Martin puts it, this is not about blame, but people are naturally cautious above telling you what has happened because they don’t want to be seen as being at fault, so a key facet of leadership here is engendering trust so that people will be open. The more open we are the more we can learn, the more we can change the way that we work, and that in turn means that we practice, either by doing the job, or through exercising drills.

A while back I ran an estate of around 30 properties, mostly corporate HQ sites. We had a crisis management routine that we interfaced with the crisis and disaster recovery plans of our tenants. I visited the top bod of a new client one day to talk about this issue and they referred me to one of their team who handled that aspect of their business.

Our crisis management pack fitted into a personal organiser that was about A5 sized, the client’s equivalent was in a pair of 3 inch A4 binders. How on earth can you usefully use something like that? Theirs tried to cover every possible scenario and provide a way to deal with it, but there was so much of it that you couldn’t usefully use it in an emergency. Our stuff was all laminated so that you could use it outside in all weathers (if you’ve had to evacuate the building you’re going to be outside aren’t you?). And how do you practice all of those scenario’s?

In facilities management we do face life threatening situations, but rarely anything like, for example, a flight deck crew. The recent Quantas Airbus incident was yet another example of a crew who dealt professionally with an incident that they practice for on the simulator, and all credit to them for putting it into practice, but they are often in the position of having only seconds to get it right.

This shows where accident investigation can make a difference for the future. At Chicago in 1979 the pilots thought that they were dealing with an engine failure on takeoff and reacted accordingly. In fact they were dealing with a freak occurrence and, in doing things by the book, they lost control and everyone on board died.  But think about this; the flight only lasted 31 seconds, far less time than it took me to write this paragraph. In half that time they had reacted to the bells and lights and done what they were trained to do.

We all learn by getting it wrong, but most of us are lucky enough to learn in environments of fairly low risk. It shouldn’t stop us from having the drains up and trying to improve. It isn’t about blame; it’s about learning and doing it better next time it happens.

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