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How Managers Can Enable Learning from Mistakes

“We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.” – Samuel Smiles

It isn’t easy for managers to enable their employees to make mistakes or have failures. Managers worry about the repercussions from mistakes made, and employees may worry about their job security. However, mistakes are going to happen! Especially when we enable for innovation or creativity in the job, and we want to enable for innovation on the job.

While we want to enable for mistakes, we can control the impact of those mistakes by putting parameters, or guidelines, in place. These guidelines enable for risks to be taken, and mistakes to happen, without those mistakes causing a tremendous negative impact on the organization. This may include regular “check in” points with employees, requiring reporting on status so that failures can be caught early, training employees in problem solving technical, as well as a number of other ways to enable for a safer environment for the employees who are working on initiatives that may carry some risk of failure.

When mistakes happen, the manager should meet with the employees to evaluate the mistake with a focus on developing answers to the following questions.

  • What went wrong, when and where?
  • What were the root causes of the failure?
  • Looking back, when were the first signs that there was a failure?
  • Why were the signs not noticed early on (assuming they were not?)
  • What could have prevented the failure from occurring in the first place?
  • How could failure be avoided the next time? What will we do differently?

Answering these questions in a team-based environment enables for learning from the failure, and gets the team back on track. Lessons learned from failures enables for increased success in the future.