This just in: My favorite football team, the New England Patriots, may be in trouble. Many of you will revel in this notion, some will nod in solemn agreement, and others may say, “Football? Oh, you mean American football…”

football playerThe Patriots went into the season with high expectations, and though they’ve somewhat righted the ship, they didn’t play as well as they had hoped early on, resulting in a feeding frenzy of conclusions as to what the problem was, including this: Tom Brady is done.

Brady, the team’s quarterback for more than a decade, has enjoyed great success, but he’s 37 (old by football standards) and it’s true that he wasn’t playing particularly well at the time. The question of the hour, though, was why? Had he finally lost his mojo? Was the offensive line not blocking well enough for him? Were his receivers not getting open?

In his weekly interviews with the media, he insisted that the problem was that the whole offense wasn’t playing well – that it’s an interconnected system for which everyone has some level of responsibility, and they all needed to improve.

Still, the public desperately wanted to point to that one factor, that one thing that was causing all (or most of) the team’s issues (“if they could just block better/if they had just spent money on getting him quality receivers/if they just had a better game plan”).

Unsurprisingly, this sort of confusion and finger pointing has a familiar ring to it in the world of marketing and sales. “Why are we behind on our revenue targets? That last campaign was a dog! We don’t have enough brand air cover in this market! If we could just get a sales playbook, we could get some consistency…”

What’s that noise I hear? Ding! Oh, it’s the oven – the blame pie must be ready!

As a marketing operations analyst, I hear all too often that people want to draw a line directly connecting individual tactics to revenue (or lack thereof), but it just doesn’t work that way. Instead, the key is to view our actions in a cause-and-effect hierarchy, measuring the effectiveness of each of the various activities we’re performing, the output those activities are creating and then, the cumulative effect of those outputs as the ultimate impact.

Back to our Patriots conundrum for an analogy using a typical football play: Did the left offensive guard execute his block the way he was supposed to (activity)? Did the left tackle do the same (activity)? Was the result a hole that the running back could get through (output)? Did the offense get a first down, or better yet, score a touchdown (impact)?

No sooner should you attribute a touchdown to a single block made by an interior lineman than you should boast that a single email drove a deal. The art is refining the combination of activities that lead to desired outcomes.

So, is Tom Brady done? Maybe. But as long as he ingests a healthy dose of humble pie to be sure he’s holding up his end of the bargain, and the coaches do their job by refining the strategic mix of tactics, then the rest of us should resist serving up the blame pie to any one person.

What examples have you seen where the credit (or blame) was properly attributed so that the team could get better? What does your measurement framework look like? How much of this is related to having a corporate culture where failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn?