As vital as Health & Safety is, this article is not about importance of looking out for trailing wires. It’s about the need to create a sense of safety in the workplace for voices and opinions to be heard and for risk to be taken. New behaviour, markets and innovation do not occur without staff feeling safe to experiment, make mistakes and try out the new.
If you find your current staff passive, reluctant to voice opinions or adopt necessary change one reason could be that they do not currently feel safe to do so. A safe environment is one where individuals know that it is OK to say something foolish, make a mistake, be themselves, fully express their thoughts and ideas, experiment and go out on a limb. In short, to be real and human.
In the drive for results, managers can often communicate the opposite. By venting their frustration and exasperation when things go wrong, just as much by their body language and tone of voice as any words spoken, they indicate that making mistakes are not allowed and errors will be punished by a sour face, irritated voice and a sense of blame and accusation.
Obviously, continued errors and a lack of commitment by staff to improve and learn is something that does need to be faced and resolved. But it is important not to squash enthusiasm and experimentation in an attempt to achieve the impossible dream of perfection.
In fact, if you wish to create the true learning organisation, mistakes and the subsequent learnings are something to actively seek and reward. I remember hearing a story of a big oil company awarding a prize to a department that made public their very expensive mistake of investing in a leading-edge IT solution that turned out to be a failure. They did this just in time to prevent another department from making a similar error. Hiding mistakes and failure leads to endless repetition; being open and sharing mistakes allow learning to occur. But this sharing can only be made in an environment of safety where careers are actually enhanced by admitting to errors of judgement rather than being adversely affected.
Which type of team do you want to create? One that grows through mistakes or remains passive and safe, leaving the field of fresh innovation wide open for your competitors?
And how do you currently respond to admissions of errors and mistakes? Would this be a career-limiting move in your current environment or would it be congratulated and rewarded?
Start today by monitoring how you respond when you learn about mistakes. Work to become calm, appreciative and curious about what happened. Create your learning team.