Blame Game

Question: to Ask the Workplace Doctors about the Blame Game

I am the manager of my department. There was an oversight during the budget process, thus creating a shortage in my department for salaries. Without going into all the detail, as I see the situation, the fault lies with Human Resources because past practice was that the departments did not calculate the salary line item, the Human Resources & Insurance Departments did this and provided the dollar amounts to the departments. Before the 2012 budget was accepted on Jan. 1, in the final months of 2011, I discovered that my budget had a shortfall in salaries and notified the managers of Accounting, Human Resources and the Senior Manager.

The consensus from the three managers was that the shortage would be addressed AFTER the 2012 budget was accepted in this year.I understood, and accepted their directive, knowing that by this time this year, the shortage was increasing, and now there isn’t any money left at all for salaries. Because this needs to be corrected our policy is that the board of directors needs to be notified.So, I contacted the Senior Manager and the Human Resource Director and Accounting Director, and now they are all pointing the finger at me and saying it is my fault and I am the one to blame.

I agree that I am at fault, but only partially. My question is: What do I do when I face the Board of Directors? Do I point fingers at Accounting and the Senior Manager and Human Resources? I have copies of communications showing I was advised to wait until this year, even though I realized it in November of last year. I don’t want to blame others BUT I don’t think I should take all of the blame. Please advise me on how I handle myself when I meet with the Directors?

P.S. None of the three managers aforementioned will back me up. I have actually been told by the Human Resources and Senior Managers that they aren’t going to help me.

Signed, All the Blame???


Answer:

Dear All the Blame???:

Why you are to blame is unclear to me from the account you have provided. And also there are other details that are not made explicit, such as your responsibility, if any, for providing projection of salaries needed. Also it is not clear as to when, how and who makes the budget for the coming year. Moreover, on January 1,when you notified the managers of Accounting, Human Resources and the Senior Manager was that done orally or in writing? I mention this lack of information to simply say that from a distance it is nearly impossible to sort out what happened and who is to blame.

You do, however, say that “I have copies of communications showing I was advised to wait until this year, even though I realized it in November of last year” and that would seem to fly in the face of the three managers informing you “None of the three managers will back me up. I have actually been told by the Human Resources and Senior Managers that they aren’t going to help me”. I assume that someone, possibly, you have requested a meeting with the Board of Directors because you ask how you should approach this meeting. From here I can’t know what took place or its chronology; therefore, my remarks are generic. I expect that the board will want to hear and have provided in a one page synopsis:A quick introduction of your department and your commitment to it and the organization. Possibly you will want to provide an overview of your tenure as manager and time with your work company.A brief, clear statement of the problem; not a long description of who is to blame for the budget shortfall.A sequence of how this happened as you see it, such as the date you first learned of the shortfall, to whom you reported it and what you were advised. Suggestions for how this kind of shortfall might not occur again. Should you take the blame? I think you know what blame you should shoulder and why.

So take it. Should you shift the blame? Probably not if you want to work cooperatively with the three managers you say declared “they aren’t going to help me.” Their responsibility should become evident or at least be understood by the Board’s questioning and sorting out what should be done to avoid this in the future. I hope these thoughts help you think through what to do when you face the Board of Directors. Keep in mind that making mistakes is the rule and not the exception just as misunderstanding is the rule and not the exception. Why? Because organization is an ongoing complex process of people in different roles and staying informed too often is not the rule. One only has to know that even for the Intelligence Departments at the highest level of government that a failure to share information resulted in more than one mistake and tragedy.

Also with appreciation for this, you should be able to approach meeting with the Board of Directors as a valuable learning experience in your career rather than as appearing before adversaries.You will want to approach is respectfully and humbly, but not as one who feels compelled to apologize profusely and to explain away your blame. See it as a problem-solver rather than a blame-finder. Don’t obsess and share your discomfort with coworkers or your family. You might need to vent a bit, but if you allow it to rumble about in your head every which way and spill your guts to others, it will only add to your stress. So think big; of the importance your department has within your workplace. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is the face-saving that you and your three managers want.

William Gorden