One area that will seemingly never be irrelevant in organizations is error culture, or error management, which are often used synonymously¹. On one hand, you can now find information en masse about this topic, and plenty of intelligent studies and guides on how to deal with mistakes within an organization, but the issue is still as relevant as ever! Why is this?
Experience in medium to large companies has shown that hierarchies and competition are still strongly defined in today’s organizations, despite the influx of Generation Y that – according to theory – tend to reject hierarchies and regulation. But what has this got to do with error culture? Hierarchies and competitive orientation promote a culture where errors are quickly seen as weaknesses. Each mistake can easily be used against you, and the higher up in your career you progress, the more likely this is to happen. Of course, it significantly depends on the relevant organization and even the department. Traditionally, IT departments are quick to forgive mistakes with their “fail early, fail fast, fail often” approach, while a Head of Controlling may be torn to shreds for a typo in a presentation.
This raises multiple questions: are some mistakes more acceptable and easier to forgive than others? Is how mistakes are handled solely a matter of company culture or even departmental culture? How should an organization ideally deal with their error culture?
There is probably a difference in what type of mistake has been made. This must be considered on a case-by-case basis. As so often is the case, it’s important for each individual to first take a look at themselves. What issues are especially important to me and where should I / my team take a closer look? What are my own personal mistakes or sources of mistakes? Am I more likely to make mistakes when I have a lot to do and I want to tick lots of things off my “to do list” in one day? What can I work on personally?
As Change Managers, our experience has been that a combination of honest self-reflection with discussion within a peer group pays off, positively impacting how a team or department deals with mistakes made by themselves or by others in future. As soon as a basis of trust has been formed, where everyone feels that their mistakes will be accepted and understood by others, “owning up” will be that much easier.
¹ While error culture describes the general (company) culture in handling mistakes by members of the organization, error management is much more specific and related to the targeted, conscious management of activities in dealing with errors.