Fail well

Looking at how companies deal with mistakes is like staring deep into their souls. Corporations that emphasise culture seem to take failure in their stride, while everyone else falls flat on their faces. Suppose your employee was trying to do something great, and instead failed. What if that mistake cost you money or a client account? How would your organisation deal with that? Assuming you cringed at this scenario, here are 10 ways you could handle mistakes positively – and suck a lot less.

1. We’ve got your back

One of the gleaming examples of how to deal with failure comes from Southwest Airlines. When I interviewed Southwest’s director of people Shari Perez-Conaway and VP of people Julie Weber on my radio show, they revealed a startling party line on the issue. If employees truly believe they are doing what is best for the customer and slip up, the airline has their backs. Southwest will retrain or coach staff – not punish them – toward better solutions.

2. Culture of learning

Does your company view mistakes as part of the learning process? Or are they weapons of shame and grounds for demotion or dismissal? Leverage a perception shift by accepting that to err is human and necessary to growth and improvement. Being prepared for mistakes helps companies face the inevitable. It leads to flexible and creative thinking, sometimes prompting breakthroughs and successes that would otherwise never have happened. Making mistakes should be tied to learning, not shaming.

3. Mistakes vs errors

When formulating policy on failure, it is important to distinguish between mistakes and errors. Mistakes, as in the Southwest Airlines example, are about trying to do something good or awesome and not quite making it. New, bold, or innovative acts are risky but can pay off with practice. Errors, on the other hand, are dumb moves that should be caught, fixed, and not repeated. If a clerk keeps miscalculating payroll time and again, that employee might need to go.

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