Own your Mistakes

Want to perform better? Own your mistakes.

Yesterday I came across a process improvement that had unintentionally reduced performance.

It was a classic case of Primary Measure vs Counter Measure. The Primary Measure improved as a result of the change, but the Counter Measure dived.

You know what? This happens. It’s OK. You’re not a failure, you can’t always predict every possible future outcome from a change.

The business area noticed performance had dropped (the Counter Measure I was talking about) so they set about investigating the root cause. In this case, it was pretty clear. They identified the only change that had been made to the process, correlated it perfectly with a drop in performance and found out why.

They then approached the department who had made the change (unfortunately, it came from outside their department – so outside their sphere of influence).

But it’s what happened next that was disappointing.

The person responsible for making the change is refusing the revisit the new process. They are claiming it’s best practice and the ‘right’ thing to do.

In the face of overwhelming evidence of the adverse effect of the change, this person is doubling down on their improvement and insisting it’s right.

Why do we do that? Is it out of fear that people will find out we’ve made a mistake and then think less of us? Our perceived value as an employee will decrease?

“It’s not how we make mistakes, but how we correct them that defines us,” – Unknown

Because the reality is that a person who accepts they have made a mistake and looks to see how they can fix it is a person who is learning something new. They are developing valuable critical skills that will make them a better leader.

Instead, this person has gone down the route of ‘justifying’ their change. The old process was ‘non-compliant’ (it wasn’t). It wasn’t treating the customer fairly (it was). Customers could complain about the process (they’ve not complained once in the last 5 years).

The frustrating thing about this for the business leader impacted is that they will have lost 3 months performance trying to fix the issue, gathering more data to support their case and escalating this issue. In the meantime, their performance will be half what it should have been.

Making mistakes is vital to learning.

I’ve lost count about how many mistakes I’ve made at work. From little things like not knowing when to stop talking in a meeting with an Exec to big things like losing the company money.

I continue to make mistakes as Managing Director of Lean Consulting too:

  • I was far too slow to recruit permanent employees because I was afraid we’d not have enough work.
  • I heavily discounted our first big contract before going into negotiations with Procurement, who made me discount it further (to the point where we made very little margin).
  • After a new accounting software system was recommended to me, I spent another year on an old accounting software package before moving to the much faster and intuitive cloud-based system that saved me 50% of my time.

The list goes on. Our company is about to launch a brand new product in a very emerging technological area. I’m expecting to make plenty of mistakes here too.

I expect to learn much from the experience.

2 Responses

  1. Pete Dowling-Lynch

    Mar 12, 2017 at 5:24 am

    If you haven’t already, you should read Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed… it’s all about this sort of thing and has some great examples of benefiting from an open attitude to recognising and learning from failure.

    • Cameron Turner

      Mar 13, 2017 at 9:09 am

      Thanks for the recommendation Pete! Look forward to reading it 🙂