If you’re human, you sometimes make mistakes. That’s OK if you learn from them. And it’s even better if you talk about them. If errors are embraced as learning opportunities, everyone benefits. Errors which feed into a process of continuous improvement are invaluable - and when organisational cultures make that clear, people will want to own up when things go wrong.
Taking responsibility for mistakes, speaking up and saying, ‘yes, I’m sorry, that was me’ isn’t easy. It takes guts. Even when small things go wrong. No-one likes to look stupid, or feel they’ve done a bad job, so we need to encourage people to speak up.
Then there are the times when ‘big’ things go wrong. How often do we hear the words, ‘Lessons will be learned’, or even, ‘Mistakes have been made’ when a so-called ‘never’ event has happened that wouldn’t have happened if everyone involved had been paying attention to detail? The problem with this approach is that it’s passive. It’s up to someone else to learn those lessons. A nameless person made those mistakes. Knowing about my interest in accuracy, a friend once sent me a postcard which said, “Errors have been made. Others will be blamed.”
But it’s not about a witch-hunt. It’s about helping people to feel confident about highlighting mistakes they’ve made, or they’ve noticed, so that they feel a wider good has come out of the original error.
Our video, ‘Learning from Mistakes: The No Blame Gain’ illustrates the importance of encouraging a positive learning culture which is open and resilient. It shows how we have a choice: whether to keep schtum and contribute to a ‘vicious circle’ of repeated problems, or to speak up and take responsibility for what has happened. The latter approach feeds into a ‘virtuous spiral’ of continuous improvement through which learning emerges and is shared with the relevant people.
The situation in the video is based on a real event. The installation of a faulty part by an engineer who didn’t check his work properly led to a serious oil leak. This in turn led to months of excavation work and frequent water testing to check for contamination. During this period some water tests were ‘lost’ and had to be repeated. The whole event cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, serious inconvenience and a great deal of worry. Engineers, insurers and lawyers were involved. If people – and organisations – are focused on ‘whose fault’ it is and are dealing with costly insurance claims and counterclaims, any potential for learning from the event gets lost. How could the original installation engineer spot future faulty components? What kind of checks need to be in place? Is there a need for retraining or new quality procedures? And what is the process for taking and recording water samples? How can it be improved so they don’t get mislaid? There are many questions but few answers.
It’s easy to point the finger of course at other people’s mistakes. Just today I saw on LinkedIn a posting which said, ‘When was the last time you truly learn't something?’ Ouch. And this was from someone who described themselves as a ‘professional communicator’. You see this kind of mistake all the time.
But what about our own mistakes? Tell me, what mistakes did you make today?
And me? Well, I did a terrible thing. I emailed ‘Matt’ and sent my message to the wrong Matt. And that’s because I didn’t follow my own advice. I know very well what I did wrong. And I know why. For me, this was a shocking and salutatory reminder that I’m human too and must remember to use the tips and techniques we advocate for others! And I need to share my mistakes with my colleagues so that they feel it’s OK to share theirs with me.
Mistakes will happen. It’s how we react in the event of a mistake which is important. You can make things much worse by trying to cover up your error, or you can embrace it positively, as a learning opportunity, and calmly deal with the repercussions. It’s your choice.
An organisation with a no blame learning culture will gain from its people’s mistakes when they are embraced in the context of continuous improvement.
Further support and information
Why not watch this month’s featured new video ‘Learning from Mistakes: The No Blame Gain’? The video and its accompanying downloadable learning guide are available to view throughout March 2020 from the WATCH & GO homepage and afterwards by request. You can also see the video on the Scott Bradbury website www.scottbradbury.co.uk
If you’re interested in exploring how to reduce error and improve your people’s accuracy skills, please visit our accuracy skills website.
About WATCH & GO® videos
WATCH & GO® videos show your people how to perform better at work by illustrating practical phrases and key behaviours in just a few minutes. There are around 70 titles, each dealing with a different management topic or ‘tricky’ situation. Learners simply ‘watch’ and ‘go’ to manage everyday situations at work.
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