While reading the article “Teaching Smart People How to Learn”, I was particularly interested in Mr. Argyris’ espoused theory of action and theory-in-use. It seems with all the ethical problems plagued by the senior-most ranks of fortune 500 companies as well as some now infamous fund managers today, that people in both their business and personal lives say one thing and do another. What a great world it would be if we all would “walk our talk”.
Another interesting topic presented in this article deals with defensive reasoning. Since childhood, I have never had a problem with both admitting mistakes and looking within to try to fix my behavior. That said, I have been confounded by other people’s “blame game” behavior—where they were never at fault for anything that went wrong. I would constantly think and say, “it’s not humanly possible to always be right!” Case in point: While working my first Marketing Research job, I worked with a manager that said the following to me (someone right out of school): “Every time I start a project, I figure out whom I am going to blame when something goes wrong.” Besides setting a very bad example for an impressionable 23 year old, she was telling me that it was okay to deflect blame and that I should do it every chance I got. Luckily, I had other, better mentors at that same company.
I truly believe that the only way an organization is going to get past the blame game and defensive reasoning is if management leads by example. If they admit mistakes and take real ownership of them, others will follow suit. And, most importantly, managers and executives need to gain the trust of their employees. To do this, employers need to:
- Make employees feel comfortable in admitting mistakes
- Encourage and reward “smart” risk taking
- Allow failure