The Business of Blame

Blame GameThe Impact of Avoiding Responsibility.

Yesterday, I received an interesting bill – an invoice from my dermatologist for services rendered FOUR years ago. Yes, that’s right FOUR YEARS AGO. Moreover, half of the bill was for services I never received.

After I got over the supreme annoyance (to put it mildly), I called the doctor’s third party billing service. Thankfully, I was connected to “Jack” – a person with a sense of humor. As soon as I gave him the practice name, he said “Oh, yes. I already know why you’re calling. I’m supposed to read this statement to you from the practice.” Then in his best radio announcer voice, he read: “During an audit, Dermatology Consultants uncovered an error in which the billing system was not generating invoices for amounts under $20. We have resolved the issue.”

He continued, “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that doesn’t answer your question.” When I said no, he laughed and said, “Yeah, it didn’t help the 70 people that already called today either…“

The Business of Blame

The Blame Game. It gets played throughout businesses every day. Avoiding responsibility in some industries (like banking) has become an art form. Nathanael Fast published an article a few years ago in the Harvard Business Review titled “How to Stop the Blame Game.”

“Playing the blame game never works. A deep set of research shows that people who blame others for their mistakes lose status, learn less, and perform worse relative to those who own up to their mistakes. Research also shows that the same applies for organizations. Groups and organizations with a rampant culture of blame have a serious disadvantage when it comes to creativity, learning, innovation, and productive risk-taking.”

What if leaders hung up the teflon proof suits, actually took responsibility for their actions and learned from their mistakes? Can you imagine the improved morale and productivity – not to mention profitability?!?

Lost Opportunity

This dermatology practice had an opportunity.  It could have taken responsibility for its error and owned the consequences – instead of dumping the responsibility and burden on its patients.  While this would be a financially painful lesson, I’m certain they would have learned from it and it would be highly unlikely to occur again.   Moreover, it could have turned into a positive for the practice’s clients.

Instead, the practice totally missed the mark handling the situation poorly – from ridiculous patient statement to the ‘Your Prompt Payment is Greatly Appreciated’ message on the bill.  Really?!?  I actually appreciate prompt and accurate billing.  Most importantly, I appreciate companies that take responsibility.

(Sidebar – I HIGHLY recommend Steven Brill’s article “Why Medical Bills are Killing Us” in Time Magazine. It truly is a must read.)

Despite my good experience with Jack, I am disappointed at the practices of this practice.  And as in most cases, clients will vote with their feet – saying little, if anything.  I’m certainly in the market for a new dermatologist and I’m guessing I’m not alone…


How do you promote taking responsibility in your organization?

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