It is almost a year ago an individual, Brian Sinclair who was both physically and medically compromised died in the Emergency Room of our largest hospital. He died because for almost three days, he did not receive easily available antibiotics for a common bladder infection.
Understandably, the media, public, and opposition parties were outraged and demanded heads. It was a disgusting display of neglect and failure. Despite evidence that Brian had initially approached the triage desk to alert the employees of his need, for close to three days, nobody bothered to treat Mr. Sinclair which led to his death.
The government and health officials claimed systemic failure. They did not want to accuse any individuals of misconduct or failure. In one way, this can be seen as admirable as some employers employ scapegoating as a way of deflecting attention from themselves. But when is a “systems failure” simply a cop-out?
I would argue that claiming “systemic failure” is just like scapegoating but instead of blaming an individual, a faceless system is blamed, and instead of being punished, it is to be fixed. It is more palatable to do since it is emotionally draining to discipline staff. Not to mention, there are powerful public sector unions who will fight tooth and nail to defend its members, even if justifiably punished.
This was restated to me at a client complaint workshop, where the current organizational thinking is “everyone wants to do a good job, but problems result because of system errors”. That may partially true, but who holds the people who setup the system accountable? And what happens when an employee is just plain bad news?
The current scapegoating philosophy would say it is a “systems error”. Nobody takes any personal responsibility or blame except to “fix the system”. They ignore the fact that the system is not a real thing, but is a collection of individuals who are expected to possess the powers of perception, judgment, and discernment.
Now we have a system being held accountable and we remain all the poorer for it.