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Learning Organization: How to turn "failure" into opportunities

In a dynamic market environment and a rapidly changing world, a company can only operate successfully if it is constantly learning. However the reality in organizations often looks different and opportunities are missed. Failures are not communicated and negated. Thus, the organization pays the price of further development. In this video I would like to give you some inspiration to turn mistakes into opportunities.


Transcript of the video

It may come a bit as a surprise in the current situation to speak about the art of failing and the concept of a learning organisation. But stay with me for a moment and I will show you that it is more significant than ever. What I have observed over and over again in different organisations are two common reactions to mistakes and to failure. The first one and that’s the most detrimental to organisations is to just put it under the carpet. Well the thing is, it is still there and will start to ferment and sooner or later explode. Obviously the biggest harm one can cause the organisation. And mostly the reasoning behind it is just to keep one’s face or status. It literally deprives the organisation of the chance to act upon the situation and to learn and to evolve. The second one is to enter into conflicts and to play the winner and looser game. For example when a direct report or peer made the mistake and a second party speaks a word of power. Not as bad as the first option but it might likely either destroy or harm the relationship. I reckon I do not have to mention, that trust and loyalty is one of the biggest assets not only for the organisation but also prerequisite for leadership. And there is a huge difference if somebody thinks you couldn’t do better or you didn’t want to. The good news is, that the latter one usually is simply a lack of skills in communication and self-regulation. So there’s a far better option, the third option which is a solution-oriented communication approach. First and foremost it is important to praise - and I really mean praise - the one who either made the mistake or brought it to attention and communicated it. It shows the person’s courage and contribution to the organisation. To F A I L is nothing more than an acronym: first attempt in learning. if you really think about it learning always means to fail. If you don’t fail, you’re already master in it and thus would not learn anything at all. Befriend yourself with the fact that humans do make mistakes and never - and I mean never - attack the person, but rather offer help to solve the problem at hand and to possibly avoid to make the same mistake in the future. So you are welcome to constructively criticise the actions or the behaviour, but refrain from attacking the person itself.

There is a huge difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Let me explain: praise and blame are two sides of the same coin and with a fixed mindset you would praise somebody - for example - for being intelligent. Yes, it was well meant. But it has mostly the opposite effect of what you’d expect as different psychological studies show. The person will do everything to keep up his or her status as being intelligent and therefore will not dare to take any risks or try something new. Vice versa if you praise somebody for being engaged and motivated and having given his or her best in the process you do encourage the person to even - let’s say fligh higher. Same counts for mistakes as this will be seen as a stepping stone to learn and improve. And ideally it is not only the person who learns but also the team, service line and whole organisation. To be clear: I am not inviting anybody to make mistakes or fail and at the same time we have to accept we are humans and mistakes will be made - so do use them to improve. As Samuel Beckett put it so well: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Due to the current situation we are challenged more than before: we have to navigate by sight in heavy fog, experience time pressure, all our decisions and communication is under a magnifying glass because of anxiety and uncertainty and last not least we are challenged to communicate clearly, precisely and empathically to colleagues as well as clients. And there’s only one thing you can do driving through fog, as you will not be able to make it vanish and that is to slow down. At the same time you can not rely on proven processes and routines as the context and the challenges have changed. The best thing you can do right now is to take your time to think important decisions through. One distinction for me is above and below the waterline. If you are on a ship, a hit above the waterline might be painful but reparable. A hit below the waterline - well that’s a different thing. So in case of the latter one you better off reaching out to your peers and have the courage and the capacity to discuss and reflect your position or decision and to jointly find a solution, whenever possible.

The essential task of an organisation is to identify problems in the outer world and continuously develop its competences to provide better or adequate solutions and that is - you guessed it - a learning organization, as you become stronger and fitter growing on your individual and collective challenges.

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