It's kind of embarrassing isn't it? Our country asking other countries if they mind if we stand up for what we believe in. American companies asking their employees if they can help them find counseling due to their inability to get to work on time or not abuse their sick/vacation time privileges. Parents appealing the test scores of their second and third graders because the test did not take into account the child's attention deficit or perhaps test anxiety.
We've become a society of excuse-makers. Every problem we define is augmented by a reason as to why it occurred and that reason is always crafted to make us guilt-free. It's never our fault.
The complement to this angle is pre-packaging our anxieties and hanging that awareness up in the store-front window for all to see. As if there is some grace in knowing we are about to "mess up" and if we cop to it early, we don't look so clueless.
I heard a child psychiatrist on the radio last week bragging about how he always defers the toy that accompanies the fast food kid's meal so that his children understand that the treat is the meal not a toy that comes with it. How about give me a break, okay? If your child's foundation for values and balance hinges on the denial of a plastic dime store dragon, my guess is you're lacking as a parent in a lot of other places, okay? I wonder how these kids fare when the word of this gets back to their friends at school and they get mocked for having a dad who is such a tightwad, micro-managing geek?
Yet it is drones like this that develop that same type of cafeteria-style philosophy where there are one or two things you need to do right and then everything else will fall into place. If our kids do something wrong, there must be a source for that behavior and the parent's inability to identify that up front positions them as neglectful. The accused then render the same response, "It's not my fault! I didn't know!" Oh the pressure here is incredible, isn't it?
Taking it to the Street
What is the business equivalent of this entire "cover your tail" phenomenon? Where does this whole notion of, "Hey, it's not my fault" come to rest in our companies? Think about it. You probably know.
If we as parents and adults and mates and mortgage holders are constantly being taught to say, "It's not my fault," how would this side-stepping skill manifest itself in our businesses?
Where could we get someone to champion our idea and then willingly take the heat if problems arise?
Enter the consultant -- the open box of baking soda in the refrigerator of life that takes all the odors of responsibility out of your day.
They are that all-too-willing, call-you-back-tomorrow, let-me-get-back-to-you reliever of pain and suffering. Behold the mighty consultant as he bellows, "Hey, it's not your fault!" Our hero!
Ah, but there is a price for such coverage, and as with most insurance you can pay for liability only or you can upgrade to the point where even the drive train is covered. In any event, your goal will be served. At some level, the problems won't be your fault. Your responsibility is not completely eliminated but it is limited. See? "Yes Mrs. Johnson that was my baseball that flew through your kitchen window but Jimmy threw it. Not me."
Is there a downside to this? I think so. Since you will bear little or none of the blame, you accept little responsibility for ideas.
An idea without ownership is simply a concept. That is usually the product of a committee, group or entire company. I cannot name one great work of art or literature that was done by a committee. Therefore the death of the individual idea seems to be something we can at least partially blame on the unwillingness to accept responsibility.
The men that made this country great -- the Fords, the Hersheys, the Carnegies, the Rockefellers; these people thrived on responsibility. They had their names stamped on the product; their names in large letters emblazoned on the side of buildings and trucks.
Management had a stake in the company and a reputation to maintain. While large private company professionals today rarely hear the direct message of ownership, due to layers of bureaucratic management, the inverse has become true in public companies such as park and recreation trades.
The feedback circle is indeed in full swing in the public sector that includes the parks and recreation trades. As we assess the satisfaction of our constituency by tallying indicators like levy support and grant application results, it is clear that accepting ownership and responsibility makes a difference; makes our companies stronger.
Those loyal to the organization and willing to accept responsibility are proof of that fact. Trust is the foundation of loyalty and loyalty is the product of handling responsibilities in a proud manner. Hiding behind the recommendations of a stranger is not the kind of behavior that conjures up the sentiments of faith in a good leader.
As you go to hire the politically correct applicant over the better qualified one, as you find yourself allowing the consultant to lead rather than consult, as you find yourself sacrificing that bit of freedom that makes you unique for the security of existing risk-free in your job remember that you were hired to make a difference; not simply to rubber stamp things and comply.
You have an opinion and were hired to utilize that to make things better. Consultants have their place and can be a useful tool, but never lose sight of the honor of being a decision maker and having the liberty to craft a solution or invent a successful project from beginning to end with a stamp on it that says, "THIS IS MINE."
Ronald D. Ciancutti is the purchasing manager for Cleveland Metroparks, a metropolitan park system that encircles Cuyahoga County and includes more than 20,000 acres of natural land, six golf courses, seven nature centers, a variety of special interest facilities and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Ron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.