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Can We Talk About What's Working And What's Not . . . And Why?

Mar 18, 2008
Mistakes and setbacks can be opportunities for growth when we find out what went wrong and change our approach. Let's look at the key steps to ensure such learning occurs.

How can you do more to stir useful discussions of what's working and what's not?

Most organizations act as though errors will never be made and give those in the organization no guidance as to what to do about errors when they are. That attitude fosters a cover-up mentality. An excellent way to improve your organization is to have a clear understanding of what should be done about avoiding and dealing with errors.

What errors do you want to encourage in your organization?

Your reaction may be that you never want to encourage errors, but that stance will retard your progress. Particularly in areas such as developing improved ways to do things, you and your organization should and will make lots of errors. Otherwise, you'll never produce anything that is much better than what you are doing already.

Also, inexpensive errors can be a good way to train people to be more successful in avoiding expensive errors. A good example of that opportunity can be to give people hands-on experience in simulated environments (in the way that many highly technical jobs are taught today) where the mistakes are nothing more than sirens going off on a computer screen and a little time spent to do the simulation.

What errors do you want people to report immediately to others?

A well-trained group will already know how to resolve most errors, and the people who find the errors should simply resolve them immediately. But errors that happen repeatedly should also be reported and evaluated. Knowing that a certain error often happens can help focus attention on finding a way to overcome the root cause of the error, rather than simply repeatedly dealing with the consequences. Also, repeated errors can be a clue that an existing irresistible force is taking a new direction or a new irresistible force is at work, either of which may require a totally different kind of action.

How can you motivate people in your operations to report their errors and those they discover?

The best way to encourage people to report errors is to make the cost to the individual of alerting the organization about a problem relatively small or nonexistent. You might even consider rewarding such communications under some circumstances, such as when life, injury, or the firm's existence is in peril.

You need to be sure that the people who report their own and others' errors are, at the very least, praised for doing so. Otherwise, the fear of embarrassment or being thought of as a "stool pigeon" will inhibit reporting.

To make this approach to errors more effective than just having a reporting system, you will, of course, also need to encourage people to recommend what actions should be taken to deal with the causes and consequences of the errors. Recognition and rewards should be even higher for those who excel in this area as well.

A very important step in this direction is to have the leaders throughout the organization set a good example. Many CEOs never take responsibility for anything in their operations.

Leaders should seek out opportunities to describe errors they have made, what they did about them, what benefits accrued from telling others about the errors, and why they are glad that they have acknowledged and addressed the causes of the errors. This behavior provides the irresistible growth enterprise with a powerfully necessary learning opportunity if you are to elicit the same behavior from everyone else.

Encourage each person to measure her or his own performance in order to locate more opportunities to avoid errors and correct repeated ones. Training in how to do such measuring will make it a lot easier for people. If you have a total quality management program, this training can be combined with the background people need to work as members of quality teams.

Pratt & Whitney, the aircraft engine giant, uses the following approach at its plant in West Haven, Connecticut. Publicly visible boards in each manufacturing area track daily productivity by shift. Any time goals are missed, the team immediately discusses the causes and adjusts. Most good quality management programs do something similar.

In many cases, whistle-blowers who point out the most serious cover-ups eventually lose their jobs for one reason or another. If you need to fire a whistle-blower, be sure that there is no choice and that everyone understands the reasons why. Be sure they have been rewarded appropriately for the service they did in doing the whistle-blowing, if that is the case. Otherwise, you won't be hearing any internal whistles in the future.

How can you make honesty about errors part of your enterprise's core values?

First, you need to have a process whereby your organization identifies and promotes your core values. If you haven't done this yet, you need to start now; because honesty about errors is only one of many values you want to promote.

Second, you need to reinforce those values through repetition, new forms of communication, training, and personal examples.

Third, you should screen when hiring to identify people who have shown already that they believe in and act in this way because of their own personal values.

Showing people that honesty is the best policy is effective, as well. For example, a survey of institutional money managers in 1999 reported that the most harmful thing executives can do to hurt their company's share price is to hide problems from investors and their fellow employees.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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