Learning from mistakes
Last weekend we watched the film “Sully”, the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), an American pilot who became a hero after landing his damaged plane on the Hudson River.
I think there are many lessons we can take from this story, ones of leadership, and going the extra mile for customers, amongst others.
But the lesson I want to focus on today is about learning from mistakes.
If you know the story, you will know that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) initially claimed pilot error, based on simulations of the lead up to the landing. Whilst watching the film it seemed so unfair to be making this accusation.
But, if there is one thing the aviation industry does well, it’s to learn from mistakes. Any mistake can cost lives, so for any mistake or near miss they always do an in-depth analysis to avoid it happening again.
This principle doesn’t just apply to airlines. In any business there are times when things don’t go according to plan or mishaps happen, albeit maybe not with quite such serious consequences.
Can we really learn from these mistakes?
Well, yes. Providing we’re able to spot the mistake, make an effort to understand the mistake and be open to learning from it.
Rather than dwelling on the negatives, reflect on what you and the team have learnt from these events.
Here are 6 ideas to help you and your team to learn from mistakes and reduce the likelihood of a repetition.
Making the transition
When someone is doing a task for the first time sometimes the only way to really hone new skills and develop true competence is once applied on the job. But if people are fearful of getting it wrong, they will be reluctant and will never get the chance to perfect their skill.
We shouldn’t expect perfection straight away. People need time to practise and find their own way of doing things, and not be afraid to make the odd mistake so long as they learn from it. Recognise and reward as they improve, even if things are not yet perfect.
Demonstrate your trust in your team members by giving them responsibility and authority to do what they believe is right. E.g. to respond to customers’ expectations and requests in the way that they see fit.
Define what levels of authority they have in any given situation, and give them examples of when they need to refer to a manager or get sign off, and when it’s OK for them to make the decision.
If and when you do have to get involved, use this as an opportunity for others to learn from the situation, by explaining your approach and why you approached it in the way you did.
It can be easy to dismiss a near miss; no harm done.
Unless these get reported, they may be an accident waiting to happen. So encourage your team to be open about reporting potential problems and what could go wrong. Listen to flush out potential risky situations. Have a process in place which makes this quick and easy.
Then agree what steps you can take to avoid them or minimise their impact.
Unless followed though promptly they won’t bother telling you next time.
Aim v blame
People are often afraid to report mistakes in case they are going to be blamed or reprimanded in some way. But, a failure to report and deal with problems promptly not only leads to frustrations, and later accusations of whose fault it is, but could cost you dearly in the long run if it causes long-term damage.
Encourage your team to be open about any mistakes, whether they are the cause or not.
Get people into the habit of looking for solutions rather than trying to blame others. Asking “what can I do to improve the situation?” “What’s in my control?” Rather than focusing on what’s gone wrong, or seeing it as a failure.
Admit when you’ve made a mistake – when you’re open about making mistakes your team will recognise that everyone makes mistakes. But, make sure you also focus on what’s been learnt as a result of that mistake.
(See also The Emotional Bank Account https://www.naturallyloyal.com/the-emotional-bank-account/)
Foster a supportive culture, where it’s okay to ask questions and admit you don’t know all the answers, where you’re encouraged to seek out new activities and it’s accepted that people won’t always get things right.
Give supportive feedback, and help people see their own mistakes, as well as encouraging them by pointing out what’s gone well. A culture where it’s OK to speak up if you think something isn’t up to standard; where people won’t take offence if someone suggests a better way of doing something.
Create a culture where it’s accepted that mistakes happen, the important thing is to learn from them and prevent the same mistake happening again.
If you only do one thing: The next time you or any of your team make a mistake use it as an opportunity to learn from it and move on.
Today’s top tip
Book recommendation: Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed.
An inspiring book about how we cannot grow unless we are prepared to learn from our mistakes, by understanding and overcoming failures and demonstrates how even marginal gains all contribute to success.