25 October 2014

Etsy has an interesting aspect to their culture that they call “blameless post-mortems”. You can find articles on it here and here.

In a nutshell here’s how it works:

  • Find out what happened and how to make it better, not who to blame.
  • People already feel guilty when they break something, there’s no reason to make it worse, that adds nothing.
  • Assume that people had good intentions. 99.9999% of the time the person didn’t break it on purpose.
  • Assume everyone is smart and competent. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been hired and/or wouldn’t still be with the company.
  • Treat the post-mortem as a learning experience, not a witch hunt.
  • Blameless culture encourages taking ownership and sharing mistakes. If a person knows they won’t get yelled at they are more likely to speak up and share what happened.
  • Blame culture creates an adversion to innovation, mistakes and change.
  • Share your story. To help build the culture, talk about a time you blew something up. I know I have!

Like Harvard Business Review has taught us over and over, this change must come from the top down if it is to succeed. Even if all the workers agree to create a blameless culture that doesn’t mean their boss or their bosses boss will share the view, but when the CxO pushes it everyone will accept it.