Throw Out Fifty Things

Monday Morning Motivator: "IT WASN'T MY FAULT!"



Remember Rick Moranis as Howard Gross, the screaming, burned out public relations

executive in the 1986 comedy, Head Office? He and other stars like Judge Reinhold who plays Jack Issel, a natural-born slacker who just graduated from business school and gets repeatedly promoted because his father is an influential (and corrupt) U.S. senator, and Richard Masur who plays Max Landsberger, Issel's totally jaded "personnel officer" (plus Eddie Albert, Jane Seymour and Danny DeVito, among others) work for an appallingly unprincipled, American corporation called I.N.C.


At one point, Landsberger puts his arm around the constantly bewildered Jack Issel and says "Lesson number 4: The secret to survival is never make a decision. Never, never. The minute you do, you get screwed." The film makes his point in a fabulous scene with Howard Gross screaming into all 35 of his blinking phone lines with 35 angry people, "It wasn't my fault," It wasn't my fault," "It wasn't my fault!" My favorite is when his wife calls from the hospital to tell him her father just died and she's (he's?) mad because he's in a semi-private room. Howard screams, "He's dead! What does he know? He could be in Yankee Stadium for Christ's sake!!" A bunch of other people call to voice their dislike of the launch of the new PR campaign. Howard yells into the phone, "It wasn't my fault!! I didn't make that decision, I just approved it! Don't you guys know the difference between a decision and an approval??!!"


It's a really funny movie. But not so funny when it happens in real life...unless you watched the White House Correspondents' Dinner a week ago. Governor Chris Christie (who could easily have played Howard Gross) took it in the uh, gut. The dinner's host, Joel McHale, had a few choice words for him: "Finally, a politician willing to stand up to America's commuters," the comedian joked. "Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? 'Cause I've got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you like a combo platter." Then McHale goes for the jugular: "I am sorry for that joke, Governor Christie," he continued. "I did not know I was going to tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops here. So I will be a man and own up to it just as soon as I get to the bottom of how it happened because I was unaware it happened until just now. I am appointing a blue-ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you it will be dealt with. Okay, I just looked into it. It turns out I am not responsible for it. Justice has been served."  


"It wasn't my fault," can get in the bloodstream of just about any organization when things get tough - or when somebody's isn't paying attention - or when the guy, or gal in charge doesn't have the guts to take the hit. Or just doesn't know any better. Take Donald Sterling of L.A. Clippers fame or Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, the cowboy philosopher who thinks he's found a home on the government's range. No, let's not take them. Let's leave them. But wonderfully enough, there are exceptions. One has only to look at General Motors' new CEO, Mary Barra, who dare I say, "manned up" to the task of not distancing herself from the terrible ignition switch debacle, took the heat and took the helm."Remember," she told the graduating seniors of the University of Michigan last week, "hope is not a strategy...and problems don't go away when you ignore them - they get bigger." 


Johnson & Johnson's CEO James Burke instinctively knew where the buck stopped following the 1982consumer deaths fromcyanide-laced, extra-strength Tylenol pills. He ordered an instant recall, destroyed all the remaining products and lost not only money but share price. But within 5 months of the disaster, the company recovered 70% of the drugs's market share and actually achieved the status of "consumer champion."


So where does this leave us? It leaves us with the need for eternal vigilance to paraphrase Mary Barra. A little crack here, a sidestep there, a shrug someplace else and the next thing we know we've lost it - our believability, our honor, our "following," whether we're a company, an individual -  or even a family. And when we lose that, we're lost. But hey, we won't feel bad because it won't be our fault, right? Just kidding...


You'll love this Head Office clip:


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