Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.

How to Eliminate Blame Culture in Pharmacy

SEPTEMBER 27, 2016
It’s completely normal to not want to be blamed for something, and it’s also completely normal to blame others. Interesting research shows that when someone sees another individual being blamed for something in the workplace, they’re more likely to turn around and blame others than to take responsibility. Simply being in a culture of blame creates the opportunity for blame in the future.

What’s really at the heart of a blame culture is fear of making mistakes, losing your job, or losing power within your organization.

Symptoms of Blame Culture
One is lack of commitment to excellence. Companies that allow blame culture to exist create a culture where mistakes are frowned upon. When blame runs rampant, those who know they made a mistake are very unlikely to share that they did so. Instead, they do everything they can to cover it up. Because they’re so focused on not making mistakes, they aren’t focused on excellence.

The only way industries improve is when workers are willing to take risks. A culture of blame promotes distrust, rendering individuals unable and unwilling to take the risks required to achieve. When there’s distrust in an organization, employees don’t want to share their thoughts and ideas; they want to fly under the radar to avoid getting blamed for something.

An easy-to-identify blame culture symptom is gossip. Everyone loves sharing the newest and greatest failure of someone, whether it’s a wardrobe malfunction or a less-than-appealing conversation with a customer.

The last blame culture symptom is lack of accountability. In blame culture, roles and responsibilities are vague and multiple employees do multiple things at different times in different ways. No one knows who’s accountable for finishing specific tasks.

Changing Blame Culture
It won’t go away quickly because it’s wrapped up in behavior that largely stems from the way we think, which is extremely difficult to change. As musician/songwriter Frank Zappa said, “One of my favorite philosophical tenets is that people will agree with you only if they already agree with you. You do not change people’s minds.”

Where does change start? Ultimately, it starts with you, even if you aren’t in a leadership role. When you accept responsibility for your actions and stop blaming others, change will start to happen. If you stop blaming, you’ll notice your effect on others. Eventually, it will change the way they behave, too.

Creating a Culture of Trust
In it, everyone has clear responsibilities, and each team member understands who’s doing what and when. Roles aren’t muddled and there’s no confusion.

One of the first things you must do is stop gossip. I’m not asking you to become the gossip police and go around ensuring everyone is focused on obeying the rules, because we all know what'll happen:





Instead, try these techniques:
  • Focus on how to change the subject
  • Look at the positive side of things
  • Focus on what’s actually true
  • Accept responsibility for failure or a mistake
The only way someone can change the culture of gossip is to not engage in it. Gossiping may feel good, but whatever short-term pleasure is created from gossip falls short and only makes you want more.

The only way someone will start accepting responsibility for failures is by seeing others do the same. Research shows those who accept responsibility for failures learn more, achieve more, are less likely to lose their jobs, and are less likely to earn less, according to an article in Harvard Business Review entitled “How to Stop the Blame Game.”

When Mistakes Happen
We have to make mistakes a part of our process and the health care system. We can’t just ignore or fear them, because they will happen.

Unfortunately, that means we must anticipate failure. But, once we do, we can expect and create a process that can help us save face and eliminate fear of doing something wrong. We must try to figure out how a failure can lead us to a new system that can potentially save lives.

When someone makes a mistake in your group, don’t scold them. I know pharmacists are part of the trusted health care community, but we’re still human. Eventually, a life will be put on the line because of a mistake. We can put every process in place to prevent a death or injury, but we can’t prevent everything.

We live in a flawed world, so when a mistake happens, get to the heart of the matter quickly. Remember, whoever made the mistake had the best intention to do what was right, not wrong. Shifting your culture from blame to trust starts with making a commitment to building a better workplace by taking steps to combat blame and its symptoms. 


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