Why Do People Do Dumb Sh*t?

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By Brenda DeBastiani, BA, CRA, FAHRA, RT(R)

Why do employees do “dumb stuff?” What in the world were they thinking? WHY? As an imaging leader, I have asked myself these questions multiple times throughout my career. The answers vary, but most times, the responses from my employees include something along the lines of, “But I was trying to do the right thing.” Their errors often made me feel like I was not an effective leader or that I was speaking a different language. What in the world should I have done differently to get the expected outcomes?

While sitting through a training session last fall, I began to ask myself questions about why employees make bad decisions. I worked for many years as a technologist, and I did not make the same errors that some of my employees make. Why is that? When they make these mistakes, many of my team say that they were trying to do “right things right.” I began to dig a little deeper to determine what occurs to make people make bad decisions. Is it them, or is it me, their leader?

As leaders, it is our job to ensure that our employees are actually doing what we think they are. Have you ever noticed that employees sometimes act one way when you are standing there, but differently when you walk away? Why is that? (That is the Hawthorne effect.) Have you ever heard of “procedural drift?” This occurs when it is easier or more efficient to not follow the policy as designed, so there is a mismatch between procedure and practice. Maybe there is a gradual shift away from the designed practice over time, which is known as “practical drift.”

And yes, there are times when employees intentionally choose to do the wrong thing, and they should be held accountable for their actions. The “Just Culture” values-supportive model of shared accountability provides an algorithm to ask questions to determine if the error was simple human error, at risk behavior, or reckless behavior. (Several years ago, I presented at the AHRA Annual Meeting on Just Culture, which is a methodology that was created in the airline industry to guide leaders on how to address employee behaviors or decisions. The leader must ask if the employee: 1) deliberately acted in a reckless way, 2) made a conscious decision to do something that was not per policy, yet did not expect the outcome, or 3) followed a process which is designed poorly, which led to the error.)  Each answer on the algorithm takes you down a different path, which could lead to no discipline or could lead to discipline up to and including termination.

What kind of culture do you have? Be a leader who spreads praise but accepts blame. This will result in increasing security of your people and increasing the likelihood that your employees will take ownership of their actions.

Want to learn more about all of these topics? Join me (and Starla Ringer, my co-presenter) at the 2018 AHRA Annual Meeting in Orlando for our interactive session, “Why do Smart People do Dumb Sh*t?” on Monday, July 23 at 4:15 PM. We’ll see you in Orlando!

Brenda DeBastiani, BA, CRA, FAHRA, RT(R) is the director of imaging at Mon Health Medical Center in Morgantown, WV. She can be reached at DebastianiB@monhealthsys.org


  1. I’m unable to attend the conference to hear more but is this available to see elsewhere? Found it very interesting and direct to the point, which was refreshing. Thanks

  2. I look forward to hearing more on this! I often ask myself the same questions! W

  3. First I love the title. Second I look forward to the presentation. It also reminds me of another fancier term Standardization of Deviation. I like procedural drift. It also reminds me about the Just Culture or Culture of safety being what we all aspire to. Far too frequently people are so scared of getting in trouble they forget to turn right. I liken it to being so afraid not to run into the glass door you walk face first into it.

  4. I’m looking forward to the expanded version of this taste of Radiology Leadership experience you have Brenda. I’ll be there early with pen and paper. Great read!

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