Businesses shouldn't be so quick to assign blame to employees when problems arise, new research finds.
Rather than dismissing a problem as the result of one employee's incompetence, businesses should look deeper to find the root of the problem, according to a study recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.
"Concentrated failures prompt narrower attributions of responsibility, which, whether accurate or not, ultimately lead to less thorough investigations and fewer of the system-wide changes that are typically required to address organizational performance problems," wrote Vinit Desai, the study's author and an associate professor of management at the University of Colorado, Denver.
This is especially true when multiple errors involving the same employees are made. Desai said leaders have a tendency to simply get rid of the guilty employees or make other relatively limited changes.
"While these simple changes may be sufficient in some cases, the present study suggests the need for deeper exploration," Desai wrote.
The study was based on one specific professional field, however, so the results may not apply to all industries. The analysis looked at cardiac-bypass surgeries in more than 115 hospitals in California. Desai discovered that a greater concentration of failures among specific surgeons was associated with more doctor departures, but not reduced deaths. Overall, the exit of less-competent surgeons did not, in general, solve the problem. [How to Fire an Employee ... The Right Way ]
When the same employees or department make repeated failures, leaders might suspect that those employees are solely responsible for the mistakes, Desai said.
"This may initially seem reasonable, given the frequency of failures involving this party and the relative rarity of failures involving others within the organization," Desai wrote. "However, work on defensive attributions would suggest the tendency for decision makers in this situation to ignore or undervalue any contributing situational factors, and even to overweight the importance of individual or dispositional characteristics."
The study's results show that employers shouldn't be too quick to assign blame when mistakes are made, Desai said.
"In all likelihood, there is more to be lost in doing so than there is in looking for a deeper cause," Desai said in a statement. "Difficult though they may be, deep searches for underlying structural solutions or procedural changes can pay off in a big way even in high-functioning organizations."