Musings on Punishment

What’s the first thing we do when a problem happens in the live system?  Fix it of course.  Then we set about finding out who’s to blame so that they can be suitably punished.  Why is there this drive to punishment?  What dies it achieve?

shutterstock_127933583One organisation I worked with used to have a high level manager who would stand behind the person trying to fix a production issue and shout at them until it was solved.  Highly motivating I’m sure.

There are 4 reasons to punish someone:

  1. to stop them from doing it again
  2. to stop other people from doing the same thing
  3. to give recompense to the victim
  4. for retribution

So which of these are we feeding when we blame and punish people?  Many people would say that they are stopping the individual from doing the same thing again.  To see how true this is we need to consider whether the act was deliberate or whether it was a mistake.  The vast majority of people want to do a good job and wouldn’t deliberately cause a problem or be deliberately negligent.  That means that most of these incidents are due to mistakes.  How much choice does someone have about whether or not they make a mistake?  Can they choose not to make one again?

The majority of the time when we punish people in the workplace it is actually for retribution.  They deserve to be punished for causing problems/losing the company money/making your life difficult.  The fact is that it feels good to punish people for the wrong that they have done.  If you find yourself in this situation and enjoying dispensing justice then I’d suggest that you stand back and ask yourself what you are achieving.  Will the person be more or less motivated?  Will they be more or less engaged with the organisation?  Will they be more or less innovative in the future?

Think about what you want out of the situation.  If you want fewer live issues then spending time thinking about why the problem occured and what changes could be made to stop it happening again would be far more likely to achieve your aims.

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About IvanaTheTerrorBull

Techie skater and agile craftswoman with a passion for learning @IvanaTerrorBull