How to promote a good and helpful culture of handling error and failure
How nice it would be if this topic was easy! Employees are trained in tasks, given material, trainings, briefings and possibly further trainings. At the beginning, colleagues and managers are happy to answer questions and be in a stand by mode. All information is supplied, everyone is on the same level. Then everything should work out!
But it does not always. Mistakes happen. Seemingly insignificant ones, serious ones. Everywhere. Daily, hourly. Again and again. What doesn’t it cost us in terms of time, energy, money, trust, and a sense of well-being between employees and managers to repeatedly discuss problems and mistakes that have occurred? At some point, patience wears thin. How can you avoid that mistakes and failures do stick on employees as an everlasting label, but instead can heal as a wound?
In genuine KAIZEN there are simple, but very effective and attentive rules:
WELCOME MISTAKES AND FAILURES!
In the Japanese philosophy of KAIZEN, every occurring error is seen as a great opportunity for further development. Where errors occur, there is also something to improve and grow from. Mistakes and problems make weak points in the system, in the processes or in the most different company channels visible, which were hidden before. So, change perspective and realize: Good that this comes to light, now we can improve on it for the future!
NEVER SPEND TIME AND ENERGY LOOKING FOR CULPRITS!
Even if the first impulse is strong: When mistakes occur, angrily searching for the one, supposedly “guilty” person creates a distrustful, unpleasant climate. It causes a “ducking away” of the workforce and ultimately a destructive atmosphere of control and fear. The precious time and energy invested can be better spent in a sustainable way.
LOOK FOR CAUSES, NOT FAILURES!
Instead of trying to demoralize the allegedly sole “culprits” or yourself as a manager with accusations, it is better to investigate the factual causes together. It is very helpful and relieving to consciously separate the facts from the person! Which facts in the system have made the supposed “failure” of a person possible or even favored it? Where can weaknesses be uncovered that contributed to the failure and how could it be eradicated for the future?
BEWARE OF “ADDING UP,” IT’S A BOOMERANG!
At first glance, particularly active employees with large circles of action seem to make more mistakes than more passive ones with smaller circles of action. Preconceptions and prejudices that accumulate over time, quickly lead us to draw the wrong conclusions here. Adding up a “history of mistakes” or a “list of debts” of people more and more does not lead to objective judgments, but rather clouds the view. Moreover, they do not enable the rehabilitation and thus the performance of employees. And watch out! Boomerang danger! Mistakes that keep popping up also show that the organization has repeatedly missed the opportunity to work thoroughly and promptly on early warning systems or counter mechanisms!
MINDFUL FEEDBACK RELEASES ENERGY
Instead of treating employees who have made mistakes with noticeable disregard or with reservations, it is more beneficial in the long run to help them straighten up through mindful, coaching feedback. Encouraging them with positive visions and impulses, for example, to actively participate in the overall improvement as “experts” and “informants” for the recent mistake, makes both strong: employee and organization! In this way, employees are not excluded by distance, which could have major consequences ranging from withdrawal to inner resignation to real loss. But better: they are integrated benevolently and in future really unprejudiced. This creates psychological security, which in turn awakens positive energies and allows trust to grow again.
THOROUGHLY ILLUMINATE THE SYSTEM!
Very rarely do people make mistakes on purpose. Often out of carelessness. But in the vast majority of cases, several factors, personal and systemic, come together for a mistake or problem to occur. Here are a few suggestions for a search for causes with a 360° view. The following questions focus attention not only on the human cause, but also on the environment, resources, technology, communication, management, and more:
- Is the cause due to personal disposition, energy level, health condition, overwork, time of service?
- Could it be the work climate where employees cannot contribute their potential without fear, lack of energy and motivation?
- Is there sufficient opportunity, space and trust for reassurance about the understanding of tasks, terms, applications, facts, contexts?
- Is it due to lack of further training, practice time, different ways of working?
- Are there different values underlying the performance of work? e.g. speed before diligence or vice versa? Or: external effect before team spirit or vice versa?
- Are the assumptions about time management, workload, speed realistic?
- Are there weaknesses in the completeness and traceability of the task transfer?
- Are there gaps or weaknesses in familiarization plans, information tools?
- Could it be lack of rep roles, leaving only single points of contact that leave gaps when they fail?
- Could it be lack of consideration of intermediate outcomes, too long periods between common checkpoints?
- Are there sources of error inherent in the means of communication or in timing mismatches of information?
- Are technical terms, abbreviations, own word creations the cause of misunderstandings?
- Could the communication skills of managers have an influence? Body language? Choice of words? Tonality?
- Are goals and intentions, risks, dangers, but also potentials and opportunities clearly and unambiguously formulated or interpretable?
- Is there sufficient time available or is high time pressure also a favorable error factor?
- Are the available technical resources and equipment appropriate, sufficient, functional and also understood?
- Have sufficient human resources been available?
- Did the environment, premises, distances possibly influence the error that occurred?
- Are lighting, workstation design, noise, etc. conducive to error?
- Is the work environment, the place, errors occur more often, conducive, motivating, scary, oppressive, or in any way error-favoring?
- Many things can come together when errors occur. Companies are communities of people working together, which have always been in a state of change and constant development since their inception. In this understanding, they should strive to become faster, more experienced and more creative in finding solutions together.
The key to a positive and sustainable error culture is to work together on all sides in a self-reflective and solution-oriented manner, continuously investigating causes without blaming individuals. Working together to identify the causes of an error from all possible angles and improving them step by step so that an error that occurs less frequently in the future, or at some point no longer occurs at all, builds team spirit, creates mutual trust and a sense of unity. Above all, the mistake is not a burned-in tattoo, but at most a wound that can heal again.
If you would like to learn how to actively promote a culture of mistakes in your company, I recommend our seminar Mindful Leadership.