Are you a winner or loser?

Blame has no place in a winning strategy

I’ve been fortunate to work with many companies. Although each has its own culture, there tend to be similarities. I think there are basically two groups: Some companies have a winning culture, while others have a losing culture.

If you attend a staff meeting in a winning company, it’s almost like a celebration. Oh, there are problems to be sure, but they handle them expecting to win. Sometimes the first solution doesn’t work, so they double-down and solve it. Problems don’t tend to last very long. The overall mood is very positive.

On the other hand, a staff meeting in a losing culture is a public flogging session. Nothing is right, and everyone is made to feel inadequate. The message is that the only reason the organization is in trouble is because people aren’t working hard enough and smart enough. Upper management, who think they couldn’t possibly be contributing to the malaise, flogs lower management thinking this will fix everything.

Well, if you treat your people like losers, they’re going to go right on losing. Such treatment rarely inspires anyone to climb out of the hole. Instead, it just makes the hole deeper and deeper. You have to inspire people to rise to the occasion, and you can’t do that by making them feel inadequate.

I recently attended one of these for a large nonprofit that uses many volunteers. The meeting started 50 minutes late. The message, though probably unintended, was, “Your time is worth so little, you couldn’t possibly have anything more important to do than standing around doing nothing for us.”

If these volunteers were getting paid big bucks, do you think that meeting would have started so late? When you use volunteers, if you want to keep them, you have to treat them as if you were paying them big bucks.

If you steal our money, we can always make more, but not a single one of us, rich or poor, can make an extra minute. Our time is the most precious thing we have, and when we’re willing to donate some to a worthwhile cause, we expect it will be valued and used effectively.

If you had a meeting with a very important person, you would probably arrive early to be sure you wouldn’t be late. When you have a meeting with a subordinate or someone less important in your eyes, you might be late and not even apologize. This is one of the easiest ways to insult people.

When we treat people like VIPs, they’re far more likely to put in the extra effort we need. This is the first step in turning a loser into a winner.

Then you want to talk about the successes, giving as much credit as possible. And yes, you must talk about things that aren’t going so well, but blame has no place in a winning strategy. Rather, ask them what’s stopping them.

When they identify the obstacles, the worst thing you can say is that the obstacles don’t matter. That insults their intelligence and credibility. You’re right back to flogging.

Instead, ask what can be done to mitigate the problem(s) and work with them to do it. Make them partners in the project instead of underlings, and you’ll notice a big difference in performance.

I spent 13 wonderful years at Digital Equipment Corp., and they had a tremendous winning culture. When they got into trouble, they gave up the winning culture and the floggings began. That’s when I decided to leave. Winning cultures are hard to build, but easy to lose. Few things decrease results better than blaming people and making them feel inadequate.

In 1532, Niccolò Machiavelli published “The Prince,” a treatise with a lot of convenient and manipulative recommendations. “The end justifies the means” is perhaps the most common summary.

This is a problem particularly for nonprofits, as they tend to believe their causes are so noble, steamrolling a few folks that just happen to be in the way is OK. Unfortunately, we can’t achieve great things using dubious means. No matter how desperate a situation may be, treat the losers like winners and you just might find yourself in the winner’s circle.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or

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