Stop Blaming Your People

This subtle, insidious habit is harming you and your work.

We have to stop blaming our members.

This subtle, insidious habit we have built into our systems has created a profound weakness in our organizations. We are masking our own challenges by placing the issue with our people, which makes it impossible to change.

By shifting our mindset, we can uncover the problem and seek to improve it. It isn’t easy, for any of us, but we have got to make the effort.

Unfortunately, most institutions are resistant to asking themselves the hard questions and would prefer to blame others instead.

It is easier to make it someone else’s problem.

By putting the onus on your members, it becomes easier to:

  • avoid taking responsibility
  • continue doing what we’ve done before
  • maintain our routines
  • complain

One might not even notice that they’re doing it. Taking the time to unpack the difficulties without blaming members can lead to opportunities you didn’t know existed!

Let’s break it down:

“They don’t read our emails.”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase.

It is understandable when a congregation sends out an email that they want their people to read it. When they don’t, it can be frustrating. But it goes beyond email, I’ve heard a version of this phrase everywhere:

  • How can they not know about the program!?
  • Didn’t they hear my sermon on the subject!?
  • How come they cannot turn in the forms on time!?

And, the frustration is real. I get it.

When I used to run high holiday services for the youth of the congregation, I would become so frustrated at the parents who didn’t sign their kids up or would reach out to us the day before the holiday.

I would think to myself: “you knew you were coming, didn’t you think your kids were coming too?”

There are two major problems with this:

We create a toxic culture when we blame our congregants.

Every act we take in our work creates a building block of culture. How we plan, act, and respond to things informs how others should do the same.

If we cannot take any responsibility but put everything on our people, we are creating a culture in which the institution is always right (which is definitely not the case) and the people are always at fault (which is definitely not the case).

Don’t get me wrong, people should follow through and pay attention, but we cannot control other people’s actions.

Blaming doesn’t lead to solutions.

When I blamed parents for not signing up their kids, I didn’t ask myself a crucial question. Why didn’t they sign up their kids?

Because I blamed them, I restricted my thinking. I got so stuck in my own mind that it prevented me from exploring all of the options.

This is the same thing that is happening in other realms of our work as well. Communications, programming, and services all experience this same mental stop.

If people don’t show up to programs, instead of thinking “I cannot believe they didn’t show!” can become, “what barriers stopped them from coming?”

If people don’t remember the sermon, instead of thinking “they don’t care about the subject!” can become, “how can I reinforce my message in new ways?”

Ask “why” something is happening and brainstorm.

Trying to find the reason why something is happening is the core shift. The question is sometimes the same, with a different emphasis:

How come they cannot turn in the forms on time!?
How come they cannot turn in the forms on time!?

This subtle shift opens up opportunities. Perhaps:

  • The forms were badly designed
  • They could have used clearer instructions
  • The requirement for children was buried
  • They were new and didn’t know

These are just a few ideas. With more time, we could add extensively to this list.

In the end, by asking myself these questions, I was able to devise a few solutions. One of which was to export every child in our system regardless of registration status. We still asked parents to register, but we had a backup plan just in case.

This story might seem obvious to you, and in retrospect, it is to me too.
But here’s the thing: we are still doing it.

Review your language over the course of the next week.

It probably appears more often than you think, even by accident. I hear it a lot when it comes to communications, so take a special look there.

It is time to open up our minds to the ways that we can be doing better.

We can ask ourselves these questions:

Why is this happening?
What can I do to improve the process?
How might I think differently about this?

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About the Author

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is a teacher and consultant. He helps clergy, congregations, and Jewish organizations grow and communicate clearly in the digital world, develop effective strategies, and solve problems with his consulting firm, Next Level Rabbinics.

He teaches the Torah rooted in personal growth, kindness, intentionality, and bettering the world. He writes the With Torah and Love newsletter.