May 31, 2011
In the April 2011edition of Harvard Business Review (HBR) Amy Edmondson authored an article on "Strategies for Learning from Failure." In her article Amy points out that the wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible yet organizations that do this well are rare. And the reason is that people are programmed at an early age to thing that failure is bad. This "misguided" view of failure in Amy's mind leads to a lack of real learning.
Her opinion is that failure is not always bad, in fact it is often good. Second learning from failures requires the right attitude and activities. Specifically organizations need new and better ways to go beyond superficial learning (our processes were not followed). In fact, failure Amy points out occur on a spectrum of blameworthy to praiseworthy.
What then can leaders do to build a safe environment for failure:
1. Foster openness and collaboration versus blame and I win you lose attitude
2. Celebrate the value and willingness of having someone come forward, then figure out how to fix the failure.
3. Recognize that we all have limits and we need to work in tandem.
4. Invite people to reflect on their recent experiences, to talk openly about their experiences, what they would do differently next time
5. Set boundaries, be clear about what acts are blameworthy and the consequences for those acts.
Often the biggest issue is that pilots are conducted under ideal conditions, rather than representative ones. As a result they can't show what won't work.
In the end, managers should recognize the inevitability of failure. Those that catch, correct and learn from failure will succeed, those that play the blame game will not.
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