Mistakes happen. The impact of mistakes can vary. Sometimes they can result in financial loss or embarrassment, reputation damage or even something catastrophic. However, nobody goes to work intending to do a bad job or make mistakes. Mistakes can happen for a myriad of reasons, but they are usually innocent mistakes made by competent team members.

The way to reduce errors is to ensure that you learn from each one when they occur. In order for this to happen, the first step is for your team to feel that they can be open and honest about mistakes, and indeed near misses, without fear of the consequences. This is not always easy, as nobody likes to admit that they made a mistake or did something wrong. This concept, however, is embraced in the aviation industry where it is understood that if individuals are punished for errors, it creates a culture of cover up and secrecy making it harder to get to the root cause and errors are repeated, which could be fatal. Mistakes are dealt with by focusing on improving the processes and controls rather than blaming the individual.

As a leader, the way you respond when mistakes do happen is vital.

“Great leaders don’t rush to blame. They instinctively look for solutions” – Nina Easton

  • Firstly, be calm and empathise with the individual. They probably already feel bad enough!
  • Focus on fixing the problem rather than trying to find a scapegoat to take the blame. Work through the options and take positive steps to correct the immediate error. I’ve been in that uncomfortable meeting at 5:30pm on a Friday evening where there is a standoff between departments trying to apportion blame rather than take ownership, acknowledge that there is a gap in the controls and work together to resolve the incident. Time and energy is wasted, and very little is achieved other than potentially causing damage to working relationships.
  • Once the initial situation has been dealt with, understand what has happened and more importantly why. You should invest effort in understanding the root cause, which can usually be found in the organisations processes, and how these can be improved, rather than the actions of an individual employee.  Ask questions such as is the training sufficient? Is there a gap in the process? Are the controls adequate?
  • Finally, put controls in place to avoid the error happening again in the future.

The concept of a no blame culture is key to continuous improvement, problem solving, and team building. Nobody wants to work for or with someone who they feel will readily throw them under the bus. Instead, create an environment where your team take ownership and accountability for their mistakes and can use these incidents as a positive opportunity to learn, transform and add value.