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  • Scott McInnes

#31 | Culture and embracing F%#k Ups

old photograph in scrapbook

OK readers, buckle up - there’s a bit of bad language this week! :-o And for good reason - it's all in the interest of learning.

Many organisations say things like ‘Failure’s OK’ and ‘It’s good to fail as long as we fail fast and learn’. In fact the whole idea of Agile development relies on it - create, fail fast, learn and move on to the next iteration as quickly as possible.

In my experience, for failure to truly be ‘OK’, organisations need to have a culture of transparency, openness and trust. They need to cultivate a culture in which people feel comfortable raising mistakes. In doing so they aren't swept under the carpet In the hope they’ll go away - they don’t!

Of course, mistakes can sometimes be as a result of sheer stupidity, but I don’t believe that people come to work to make mistakes on purpose. Accidents happen and things go wrong and often it can be down to human error.

What’s your company’s response when things go wrong?

How does Zalando embrace change?

On last week’s podcast Eric Bowman talked about failure and how they handle it in Zalando. Rather than shy away from it,they use it as an opportunity to learn. The person that makes the mistake is asked to talk to their colleagues about what happened so together they can work out how to ensure it doesn’t happen again. They use the experience as an opportunity for everyone to learn.

And what about DHL?

In a similar vein - but with slightly fruitier language - my good friend and ex-boss Anth Burrows published a piece on Linked in last week. He’d been in Amsterdam at the Euro HRD Summit and had seen a presentation from DHL on how they handle failure. Far from covering it up they introduced ‘Fuck-up Nights’ where staff are invited to outline what happened and what they did to fix it. Again, an opportunity for everyone to learn.

A worldwide movement for sharing failure

In fact a bit of research for this piece uncovered - a worldwide movement where business people and entrepreneurs are invited to publicly talk about their mistakes. In doing so, others on similar journeys learn how to avoid the same mistakes - again, learning from others’ experience.

Creating a culture where failure is actually 'OK'

So what are some of the things you can do to create a culture that’s open to learning through failure?

  • Embrace failure - Ensure your organization is the ‘bigger person’. When mistakes do happen, turn them into the that opportunity to learn like Zalando and DHL

  • Don’t vilify or judge - The person likely feels bad enough so further judging them or their actions isn’t going to help. In fact what it will do is ensure that that others won’t raise their hands when something goes wrong for them - NOT ideal

  • Think about team - When these things happen, your people need your - and each other’s - support more than ever. Take time to think about how you can use this as a way to strengthen the team while supporting that team member who messed up.

  • Communicate - Highlight the mistake across your channels and focus on how you fixed it to ensure it doesn’t happen again. rod your channels

In last week's podcast, Eric Bowman quoted Rita Mae Brown, the American novelist, feminist and activist - "Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement"

So what will you do differently to learn from poor judgement?

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