My weekly column “Business Competitiveness” by Carlos R. Flores, Cambio Cultural, S.A. (2015-09-10)

Whose fault is it?

When into a company an operational mishap occurs bringing about significant impact, there are always two options on the table. The first is the popular search for culprits; and second, a sincerely search for learning.

As Dr. Wayne Dyer used to say “After an extreme situation you can digest the experience through pain, or rationalize it through learning. There are no further options. This is the only life there is”.

Some organizations are faced with the ackward trouble of having too many financial resources, a fact which in itself is not bad, rather, very desirable. However, this becomes a factor that clouds or captivates its directors, with the illusion that all costs and operational consequences of a tragedy may be paid with money, this being a fallacy which is evident when a company faces the unfortunate reality of a family waking up to the death of the main support.

They will learn then that money can not buy everything, in spite of that hedonistic saying of a credit card company that money does buy all type of things.

The national survey of safety practices published in August by the prestigious EHS Today magazine in the US, portrays the ranking of the most frequent complaints from staff regarding Safety programs. For purposes of self-diagnosis, I briefly transcribe some of them:

  • Poor communication from management to employees about important topics of SO.

  • Safety management is a necessary evil.

  • Noticeable breakdown of communications between supervisors and operating personnel.

  • Policies and procedures are long and confusing.

  • Feedback is not consistent. Staff is not sufficiently explained the reasons why behind safety.

  • There is understaffing and scarcity of other resources.

  • Inconsistent implementation of Safety policies

  • Employees do not always understand how Safety training applies to what they do every day.

  • Frequent onset of new rules that make the work way more difficult.

From my perspective, I would add that these complaints of employees are based upon a serious fundamental root: The managerial staff does not visit the operational front. There is no contact between managers and “the person in the trenches”.

The power of an executive position may erroneously determine some people to play a role in that themselves believe “appropriate and suitable for the post,” not being available, seemingly ultra-busy, to not inquire with staff about situations that may be causing operational deviations; ignoring see first hand the real perceptions of what is and is not working from employee´s perspective, and above all, neglecting hints on how they can improve the safety of tasks being conducted.

Another reason might be found in some managerial mindsets is they see no any connection between the occurrence of an incident and his/her rise up the corporate ladder: “My job” -some use to express- “is just selling and ensure that we achieve business objectives; if a serious incident occurs, it is not my responsibility, because I have not sent anyone on harm´s way”.

And of course they are right, not because it is their sole responsibility the lack of effective operational controls as the owners of a business line, but because someone in the organization, at a higher level, has seriously omitted linking their performance evaluation as managers with these failures, and therefore the model is irretrievably failed from the start.

Then, “Whose fault is it? I do not want to know…” is a latin love song which at times I hear dad -my dearest and loved old one- humming along when we ride together.

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Carlos R. Flores

Executive Director


Managua, Nicaragua

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