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NOT ME: #1 on the World Wide Most Wanted List

  Have you seen this character before?  Chances are you remember a slightly rounder, more jovial version from Family Circus cartoons in your Sunday funny paper past.  This image is just bit more menacing because of the frustration that he causes while at work.  We aren't talking about missing cookies, tumbled snowmen, or broken windows.  No sir, we are talking about fudged inventory, damaged mobile equipment, vandalism, petty theft, graffiti, and dangerous spills.

It is amazing how much effort we put in teaching our children about honesty and accountability, and how so many adults can't practice these same values in the workplace.  Perhaps it is because owning up to a mistake, misjudgement, or screw-up can cost us our job and ability to earn a living.  Would your eight year old son or daughter buy that rationalization?  I know mine wouldn't.  I wouldn't be able to hold their respect if I broke the very same rules that I hold them accountable.  As supervisors, we will just miss "NOT ME" each time we have to investigate incidents related to unsafe working conditions, environmental compliance issues, equipment damage, or loss.  Interestingly enough, people can quickly recollect the details of an event when the opportunity to shove the blame on someone else exists.  When there isn't anyone to take it but themselves, NOT ME comes to their rescue.

Don't get your hopes up, I haven't ever seen NOT ME, let alone had an opportunity to grab him by the neck, so don't get any delusions of grandeur that you will put his reign of terror to rest.  NOT ME has been around since ancient humans developed the ability to reason away their accountability and master the art of the "Dumb Look".  How do we deal with NOT ME's rampage in the workplace?  The answer starts with us.  We need to take accountability in everything we do, don't do, or neglect to do.  If we join in on the blame game when we fall short, our direct reports will see no reason to stick their necks out when they make an error. 

Again, we are now in the middle, in the same ole' squeeze play between the upper management and the rank and file.  Our mistakes become the fodder of ridicule from the shop below and a target of scorn from up above.  Deal with it.  If you take responsibility for your mistakes, then you are a step closer to getting your hands around NOT ME.  In my position, I assign routine inspections of critical equipment to make sure that anything NOT ME does gets noticed quick.  When you find the result of negligence soon after it occurs you are on the heels of the perpetrator.  Sometimes there are enough clues still around that a thorough investigation will uncover.  If you can't solve the mystery, the offender will know that they left the clues, and will know that they must do things differently to avoid getting in trouble again.  For some offenders this isn't enough.  They simply may not care, or have any respect for the workplace or process.  That is why it is important to do your part first, so when you catch NOT ME, and put a true name on the transgression,  the discipline will hold up.

At work, we rent many pieces of mobile equipment (manlifts, skid loaders, welding machines) for maintenance down-turns.  In order to reduce damage, I rent these items only for the time needed, so they aren't hanging around for other people to use and abuse.  I went as far to place laminated placards, taped to the equipment that explain its specific job use, and its pickup date.  The placard even states that unauthorized use is not permitted.  During the last downturn, a manlift was damaged.  The lift was assigned to a particular job, and also used without authorization for one other.  This narrowed down the pool of suspects to six.  Unfortunatley, everyone witnessed the same culprit . . . . NOT ME.  From the investigation of the damage including its locaiton, paint exchange, and severity, it was straight forward to understand the cause of the damage, just not the exact culprit.  I made sure people knew what was ascertained.  Even though nobody would own up to the incident, they know that they were a RCH away from leaving tell-tale signs that would clearly implicate them without a doubt.

You can't solve every incident.  If you try to solve every one incessantly , you will gain a reputation for being a Captain Queeg (Caine Mutiny, H. Wouk 1951) and will lose whatever respect you hope to gain.  However, if you pursue each case prudently and consistently, your performers will think twice about lying, and will more likely pay closer attention to what they are doing.


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