Tomorrow’s success and getting things done is a driver for me, is it a driver for you too? Has it ever happened to you, that you’ve been angry with your self, as you have failed in something? This has happened to me, more than once. Not long ago I found an article by 3 professors. They said that mistakes and failures are the key to development! When you want to be better, you want to improve your organization, you need to love mistakes and failures. I’ve seen the benefits of this thinking as a leader and as an external advisor for organization.
We Finns have a pretty high tendency to try to avoid mistakes, we even have this proverb “let us head to new failures”. Does your organizations have a quality or operations management system, aiming to prevent mistakes? Do mistakes and even failures happen anyhow? Do you get negative feedback, when things have not gone as your customer expected? Yes, you are not alone there (you might even say, that happens to everyone), but still, it doesn’t feel nice, right?
BUT, there are organizations, where a bottle of champagne is opened, when a mistake takes place. Why do they do so? Why are these organizations better than average, often much better? They score high on employee happiness AND financial results AND customer feedback. Their mistakes and the process of dealing with mistakes is the answer. Mistakes take us to the next level. Not always easy, but always doable. Actually, a lot of great successes and innovations are based on mistakes. Resilience and trials are often one part the reaching the final solution, but the spark igniting the process is the mistake. Would you like to create something as popular as the “post-it” sticker? You probably know, that it was the outcome of glue development work gone wrong.
No, not every mistake is for good, some have a terrible price tag. Just think about Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. During a test a mistake took place and the rest is history. Mistakes and failures involve emotions. It does not feel good to admit having made on, nor to remember it. And it feels even worse, when someone reminds us “you made that mistake”.
Yes, we should work on reducing mistakes, but not to the point where this thinking creates barriers to development. You may know Statoil, a huge oil industry corporation. They are very keen on finding mistakes. The love it, when people report small incidents, close calls. Those little mistakes are the source of preventing the big ones. At an oil platform in the middle of the hostile sea, a mistake can lead to someone dying. Through creating a culture, where mistakes are seen as points of learning, they have been able to cut down the volume of severe accidents by 50 %. Every organization and leader should have a process to see mistakes in their minor impact stage and to have a process to convert that to learning. A mistake should always take you outside of your comfort zone, get you to study what it really is about, so that you can learn from it. That creates new opportunities, maybe makes you the inventor of the 21st century “post-it” solution.
We are living in a world, where changes take place faster than ever. Every mistake can also be a disguised signal of forth coming business environment changes. What was good and valuable yesterday, may today sound like a bit wrong to customer and be tomorrow obsolete. These signals, mistakes, you want to catch up to make tomorrow great too!
A mistake is wisdom in disguise. The mental approaches, abandoning, denial and excluding create a huge risk for every organizations. And yet we often just say “don’t make that mistake again”. We should be asking ourselves “what is the lesson this event wants to teach me and you”? The old school thinking, punishments of mistakes, will lead to hiding the mistakes, not to going for the root cause and fixing that. Taking the approach of corrective, coaching way of feedback, we open the door for ongoing improvement! Which also means, that we will get more done with less effort and resources!
Converting a mistake to wisdom is leadership at its best. Reducing the volume of mistakes can best be reached when people understand the real reason without guilt. This will cut down the cost of control and increase well being. Well being improves customer satisfaction and reduces sick leave days. As a mistake is converted to wisdom with the employee, you will also get higher commitment and engagement, productivity powers lasting longer than any pay rise ever can!
The answer to our initial question is “yes”. Mistake is more valuable than wisdom. Wisdom can take you only so far, mistake will take you to new frontiers. Creating the culture of appreciation of mistakes as learning platform can only be done through example. Your example. You need to make your mistakes visible and share the lessons learnt. That is the core task of every leader, because that builds the culture. The leader is about 70 % of the culture, and the culture is 30 % or more of your bottom line. It is not about how much you can get. It is about how much you are losing. Your culture defines the attitude and feeling of your employees. And a huge research by Merja Fischer / Wärtsilä has proven, that those two, attitude and feeling, have a strong positive correlation on business result, how much customers are buying and how much they are willing to pay for it. There is no magic wand, there is no “inherited feature” that make this happen. It is about how you as a leader work with your people. That is a skill, which can be trained. There are 3 steps to improvement; 1. get to know your true strengths 2. learn to use them in the right way and 3. practice and reflect to become even better.
Studying and learning to get better results is not a days training. It is a process. Using 10 minutes a day can improve you tomorrow a little. Just think, if you do that every day, improve just 0,1 % on tomorrow, at the end of the year you will be well over 20 % better! That has a major impact on your organisation too! We at Johtajuustaito.fi have helped thousands of people. If you would like to know more (ie. case study), just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org saying “tell me more”. I will get back to you in 48 hours!
Your partner in making change happen, Kari I. Mattila, emotional intelligence advisor