NEWSLETTER
Agility, Change management
Error culture before error management! How your company learns from mistakes

Table of contents


What does error culture mean? What is error management? Why is dealing constructively with mistakes so important for your company? How do you manage to establish a constructive error culture? – You can find the answers to these questions in our article.

 

Error culture before error management! How your company learns from mistakes

We are pleased to be able to participate in the blog parade #Fehlermanagement in Start-ups and Companies of the business school ESCP Berlin and BASIC thinking on this topic. Thank you!

 

Dealing with errors

We believe that dealing with mistakes is fundamental to the success of a company.
As we will show you in a moment using studies, the error culture in everyday working life in Germany is unfortunately anything but optimal. What is needed is a rethink, a change in the error culture. This is something that takes time, but it is worth tackling this change. We look at the topics of error culture and error management from all perspectives and give you 9 practical tips on how to deal constructively with errors.
Let’s first take a look at how the terms error culture and error management are defined, as they are often confused.

 

Definition of error culture

 

Definition of

Error culture and error management – the difference

Although error management and error culture are often used synonymously, they have two different meanings:

 

1. definition of error management

Error management is the control of actions that are to be carried out when dealing with errors. The objectives are error prevention and quality assurance.
Systematic processes and methods are often used.
An error management process usually consists of four phases: detection of the error, analysis and diagnosis, error compensation and finally error correction.

One example is the systematic inspection of individual pieces from a larger quantity in order to avoid faulty products. If an error is found, it is searched for and rectified, the cause is determined and the error is prevented from occurring again.

This is often based on a culture of error avoidance.

 

2. definition of error culture

The term error culture describes how errors and failures are dealt with within a company (or another group of people).
The error culture can be outlined with the following questions:
What are the reactions to errors? Are mistakes covered up out of fear of negative consequences or are they discussed openly? Are mistakes punished or used constructively together? Do you accept the risk of errors because the “try and error” method is used for further development? Or is it taboo to leave safe paths?

There are critical error cultures that sanction mistakes, in contrast to constructive error cultures that accept mistakes and use them for further development.

“Show me someone who has never made a mistake and I’ll show you someone who has never achieved anything.”

Theodore Roosevelt

 

Error culture before error management

When we discuss dealing with errors here, we do so in terms of error culture and not in terms of the above definition of error management. Our aim is to discuss the behavior, structures, symbols and communication that are necessary for the company to have a culture that deals constructively with mistakes.
Error culture is an atmosphere, a quality in the company that describes the culture of cooperation. And that is what we want to focus on here.

In today’s world, it is vital that companies initiate change, trigger innovation and invite their employees to do things in new and different ways. Dealing with failure is important for this, because anyone who dares to do a lot of new things will also do a lot that is not successful. If – as in error management – actions are only evaluated according to “right” and “wrong”, and employees have to reckon with negative consequences if they fail, people will hold back and develop little courage to simply try something out.
This is not to say that error management is not just as justified. In production, where the product has a zero-defect tolerance, this quality assurance is of course necessary. But error prevention culture is not the focus of our article.

 

Error culture in everyday life

 

Error culture in everyday life

An unfortunately true story…

Wiebke, a participant in one of our training courses, reports: Wiebke worked for weeks to put together a project team of 30 people. To find the right people, she spoke to an incredible number of people throughout the company. A big deal is on the cards – and with a lot of time pressure! Wiebke gives it her all – she works evenings, weekends and even on vacation to get a really good selection of people together in time. And her efforts pay off: she manages to send an invitation to all those selected on time.

The error.

After all the time pressure, stress and sacrificing her private life, Wiebke makes one small mistake: In one of the invitations, she accidentally writes Stephan’s name with an f.
“So what?” you think – “it’s no big deal”? Yes, that’s what you think!
Managing Director Walter, however, sees things completely differently: in an unappreciative e-mail, he gives free rein to his disappointed feelings about this mistake: “How can this happen to you? I really need to think about whether you’re the right person for the job. This is so embarrassing! You will apologize to Stephan!”

Walter has nothing more to say about Wiebke’s project. He does not comment on Wiebke’s extraordinary commitment, nor does he notice that she has made a good selection of people, which others in the company praise. But not Walter. No “Great that you managed that”, just the derogatory e-mail.

The consequences.

Wiebke is depressed, and thoroughly so. All that effort, the limited vacation – and then such a kick in the butt. This is not the first time that the company has communicated in this way. Walter’s reaction breaks the camel’s back: Wiebke quits.
Walter has thus inadvertently succeeded in digging one of his most committed employees out of the company. – And all because of a spelling mistake.

 

Fear of making mistakes

 

Reactions to poor error culture

If the reaction to a mistake can take on such proportions, what would you do? Take cover, right?
Normally, employees tend to be extremely cautious and avoid mistakes coming to light at all costs. They make use of tried and tested strategies:

  • Never do anything differently than before; you know it will work.
  • Do as little as possible, then very little can go wrong.
  • Check with one or two superiors before every step.
  • Cover up errors that have occurred.
  • And it’s also better to cover up mistakes made by others: otherwise there might just be trouble.

 

 

“The biggest mistake you can make in life is to always be afraid of making a mistake.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

Better not to do anything wrong…

It’s the same at Wiebke’s former employer: nobody dares to create anything, new ideas are completely ruled out, employees avoid anything that involves risk and only do what has been safe for years.
However, if something unavoidable comes up, the employees secure themselves several times at the top, but first – to be on the safe side – have a few colleagues look over it. You never know… Groups of people regularly form in the offices, quietly talking shop about what Managing Director Walter might have meant by an instruction. As a result – i.e. due to Walter’s expressive error intolerance – the company loses a lot of time and efficiency, not to mention innovative strength.

 

How error culture is lived today

 

How is error culture practiced today? Facts from 5 studies

We are sure that you have encountered a Walter somewhere in your life. At the very least, studies show that the error culture in Germany is not yet very good. Let’s see what science has to say about this. Information and links to the studies mentioned below can be found at the end of our article.

 

Error culture in international comparison

In his study, business psychologist and error researcher Prof. Michael Frese from Leuphana University Lüneburg compared the error culture in 61 countries.
So, where do you think Germany ranks?
– Germany ranks 60th out of 61 in terms of tolerance for mistakes.
Only in Singapore, where small missteps are punished with heavy fines or – brace yourself – the cane, are people even less willing to tolerate mistakes than here. As you can see, there is still a bit to do: 60th place!

 

Open culture of discussion

You should be able to talk about mistakes. And according to Nelson Taapken, partner at the consulting firm EY (previously: Ernst & Young), 74% of German managers believe that there is a culture of open discussion in their company. So much for the good news. The bad: unfortunately, employees see it differently – only 39% have the impression that they can speak freely in the company.
The interesting thing here is: People do talk about mistakes in teams, but “there are clear taboos and communication barriers at the top and bottom,” says Taapken. The team knows, but the boss has no idea – or vice versa. An open culture of discussion looks different.

 

Critical error culture: the fear of mistakes

Do you know that? Something has gone wrong in your company. The person responsible is sought and everyone excitedly explains why there is no way he or she could have caused the error. This seems to be far more important than solving the problem itself:
In his highly entertaining speech on the subject of mistakes, Peter Brandl asks his audience to imagine they are sitting in an airplane and hear the following announcement from the captain: “Dear passengers, unfortunately our engines are on fire. I can assure you that I am not to blame.” You see – the fear of being the “guilty party” doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

 

 

Why fear mistakes?

Why are we so afraid of making a mistake? No need to fear that the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland will acknowledge a mistake with a “Off with her head!”. What consequences do employees and managers actually fear?

Study “How Germany works”

In the study “This is how Germany works”, 1243 employees (81% salaried employees, 19% freelancers) were asked what consequences they feared in the event of failure.

  • 49% fear the loss of recognition
  • 42% fear that their failure could be communicated negatively
  • 41% believe that failure could hinder their career

 

“Running away from mistakes leads us into mistakes.”
Horace

 

Study Nelson Taapken/ EY

Nelson Taapken surveyed 800 employees and 218 managers.
Managers conceal mistakes because they are afraid of

  • 43% Career disadvantages
  • 36% job loss
  • 29% loss of salary

Employees, on the other hand, prefer to keep mistakes to themselves for fear of

  • 36% loss of face
  • 29% Job loss
  • 26% Career disadvantages

 

Whistleblower

I’m sure you’ve also wondered how it is that very big mistakes, i.e. unethical behavior or violations of the law, such as at VW or in the #metoo case, are not reported but kept quiet and thus collectively approved.
The EY study provides answers here: 44% of managers and 57% of employees fear that they will end up as pawns if they are the bearer of bad news. – So “off with your head” after all?

 

Consequences of a negative error culture

 

The consequences of a negative error culture

If a company has a low tolerance for errors, this has a negative impact on the company:

 

Critical error culture and employees

In the EY study, employees were asked what they consider to be the most urgent consequence of a poor error culture: 57% named demotivation as the main consequence. And no company can afford to have demotivated employees.
According to Gallup, the economic damage caused by demotivation and inner resignation amounts to 103 billion euros!

According to the Gallup Engagement Index 2018, 69% of employees do not feel emotionally connected to their company. The reasons: inadequate communication on the part of management and a negative error culture. The latter seems to occur frequently: only 20% of employees are satisfied with the type of error culture practiced in their company.

 

Managers and error culture

It is not only demotivated employees who resign internally or externally that pose a major problem for companies; the effects of a critical error culture on managers also damage companies:

 

Study by the Max Planck Institute

If managers have the impression that possible mistakes could harm them, they often make defensive decisions. These are decisions that are not made in the interests of the organization, but are intended to avert potential damage to the manager. This can mean, for example, that negative results are covered up or glossed over, with the consequence that the best solution is not sought, but one that avoids stress.
This connection between error culture and the frequency of defensive decisions was demonstrated by the research team from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in their study “Frequency and causes of defensive decisions in public administration”.

77% of managers stated in the EY study that they have made mistakes that have damaged their company, department or projects. Errors are therefore normal. – The decisive factor is how you deal with it!

 

The path to a constructive error culture

 

On the way to a constructive error culture: where do we stand today? The facts

You guessed it: if Germany is in second-last place in terms of fault tolerance, things are not looking rosy – yet. Most employees would like to have more tolerance for mistakes. The aforementioned “This is how Germany works” trend study revealed that employees are more than open-minded:

  • 86% want a positive error culture!
  • 66% want to use mistakes and failures for further development,
  • 63% want an open approach to mistakes, which means that
    firstly, managers also admit mistakes – and that
    secondly, motivation follows failures instead of sanctions.

 

What exactly do companies do to establish a constructive error culture?

So the signs from employees are good: there is plenty of motivation.
But are there any concrete approaches on the part of companies to promote a more positive approach to failure? No, say 49% of employees in the EY study. Managers take a much more optimistic view: only 17% of managers have the impression that nothing is happening in this respect.
In general, there seems to be a wide gap in perception here:

 

Perception of measures to improve error culture

  • Is it possible to report errors anonymously within the company?
    36% of managers say yes, but only 11% of employees agree.
  • Are agile methods such as Scrum and Design Thinking, which deal constructively with errors, known in the company?
    17% of managers are familiar with it, but only half as many employees (9%).
  • Does the company have innovation programs that invite you to try them out?
    14% of managers agree, but only 6% of employees do.

Not much seems to happen in German companies when it comes to error culture. As you can see, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

 

Conclusion from studies

 

Conclusion from the 5 studies on error culture

Managers often see much less need for action than their employees. But it is the perception of the employees that counts. So be critical when evaluating your company’s error culture!
A positive error culture opens doors for employees. Managers are now called upon to bring this culture to life, which is extremely beneficial for them and the company.
We will show you the specific steps you can take later in our article.

A constructive error culture – why do you need it?

Companies have always made mistakes – and dealt with them more or less well. So why should error culture suddenly take on a special significance? Why is the constructive handling of mistakes discussed more frequently today than in the past? Wouldn’t it be good to simply eradicate mistakes – to always work flawlessly?

Our existing error culture

We come from a culture that Taylor shaped: when he optimized work processes over 100 years ago to develop the assembly line process, his aim was to eliminate errors. The workers were instructed not to think any further, but to follow the “one best way” prescribed from above. No experiments! This way of working has become ingrained in our society. Of course, the German culture, which values 100% perfection and rules, also plays a role.

The need to minimize errors

It’s not that mistakes are a great thing per se: they produce costs and, when the going gets tough, they cause a lot of damage.
The pharmaceutical industry cannot afford to bring defective drugs onto the market. That would not only be very bad for the image – it would be detrimental to patients’ health. And the car industry would also release life-threatening products with a faulty braking system.
In such industries, it is important that mistakes are made BEFORE the product goes out; that there are tests and experiments beforehand – which can of course also go wrong. And that good error management detects and prevents the occurrence of potentially life-threatening errors at an early stage.

 

Why constructive error culture is important today

 

Why a constructive error culture is particularly important today…

So why is a positive error culture becoming increasingly important today?

In many companies, there are increasing efforts to establish a culture in which mistakes are dealt with constructively; a culture in which trial and error is valued more than everything running perfectly. There is a reason for this.
We have often written about the VUCA phenomenon. The acronym VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) describes our ever faster changing world: customer requirements are changing rapidly, technical innovations are coming onto the market at ever shorter intervals – in short: unforeseen events are happening more and more frequently and companies need to react quickly. It is impossible to predict whether what a company does today will still meet the requirements of the environment tomorrow.

In this respect, it makes little sense to create a business plan that is worked out down to the smallest detail and that everyone has to adhere to. Rather, it is to be expected that such a plan will not remain valid for years, but that changes will occur again and again. If you want to remain competitive, you need an approach that allows you to adapt quickly rather than implementing the plan you have devised for better or worse. Because the latter could lead to failure if the signs change and cost a lot of money…

 

Employees

 

The special role of employees

Who is the first to notice changing customer requirements or changes in the market? – Your employees, of course! If they notice changes and react to them, they automatically leave the predetermined plan. And therefore they should know that this is permitted, even desired. – Even if leaving the beaten track carries the risk of making mistakes.

 

“Your dissatisfied customers are the ones you can learn the most from.”
Bill Gates

 

Error-friendly working

The world that surrounds us makes it necessary for us to work in an error-friendly way. What do you mean by error-friendly?
First and foremost, that it’s okay if something goes wrong. It also means that trial and error and experimentation are explicitly permitted – and that it is of course okay if not every experiment is successful, i.e. if failures occur. Error-friendly working is the opposite of an error-avoidance culture.
What is not okay is that the company’s reputation is damaged – or even worse, that the health and well-being of its customers are put at risk.

What do studies say?

The fact that it is now necessary to break new ground and that this increases the likelihood of making mistakes is clear to managers and employees alike: according to the EY study, 85% of managers and 80% of employees see change as necessary.
It’s wonderful if this insight already exists, because it makes it much easier to implement a constructive error culture.

 

Agile working

 

Agile working: Using failures and change

Many companies are responding to the VUCA world with agile working: By applying agile methods, they achieve maximum adaptability.
What does that mean in detail?
Even if we do not know how the world will develop and how the market and customers will react and therefore cannot plan with certainty, we must ensure that we remain capable of acting and innovative.

Iterative approach

In agile working, this means incorporating changes into a process before they have even happened. In other words, to design the process in such a way that it can be adapted to changes at any time. It helps to work in iterations. Here you only plan the next four weeks (or another short period). Then look at what has changed in the world and how the customer or user reacts to the product or solution that you have developed over the last four weeks.
Once you have all the results together, the next time segment is planned from this starting point. This is an iterative (step-by-step, repetitive) approach.

An iterative approach can also mean experimenting, trying things out and then promptly obtaining feedback from steakholders, customers and contacts. From this, you decide how to proceed: Whether your idea will be further developed and adapted so that it becomes attractive to the customer – or whether the idea will not work and can be shelved.

 

Prototype

 

Prototypes and minimum viable product

Another agile approach is to launch an idea, service or product onto the market in a minimalist way in order to find out whether it is accepted by the customer. Here, it is advisable to first bring out a prototype, i.e. a product or service that works on the whole but has not been worked out down to the last detail. Such a prototype should be developed at a low price and without too much effort, so the risk remains low. This basic structure of a product is also known as a minimum viable product (MVP): the customer sees how the product works, details come later. This process is used very frequently in software development: A program or app is released and improved with each update based on customer feedback.

Another option is to initially only advertise a product online and only manufacture it when there is a demand for it. Or only launching a product in a small market and only entering the large market once success has been achieved in the small market.

The decisive factor in this approach: Use the insights you gain from customer behavior or feedback!

 

“A person would never get around to doing anything if they always waited until they were so good at it that no one could spot a mistake.”
John Henry Newman

 

Trial and error

The English word Fail or Failure – in the sense of failure or miscarriage – fits better here than the German word Fehler: You have tried something and it either didn’t work – or needs to be improved. You cannot know the result beforehand. Trial makes perfect.
Sure – it takes courage to take this approach, but it is ultimately vital for companies to remain competitive and innovative. The basis for this courage is a culture that encourages trial and error, i.e. a culture that reacts positively when someone tries something out and knows how to classify failures constructively.

Importance of a positive error culture

 

The importance of a constructive error culture

Reaction to errors

How would a constructive error culture react to a fail, to a failed attempt?
Employee Jürgen realizes that something is not quite running smoothly in his area. Jürgen has an idea of what might help. He tries it out, but unfortunately it doesn’t work as he had hoped.
As Jürgen’s manager, you have two options for responding:

  1. “How could you burn the money? That will cost you dearly! We won’t entrust you with such tasks in future! Didn’t you think things through properly? Didn’t you plan thoroughly? This can’t be true!”
  2. “Super Jürgen, cool, you had the courage and risked the effort and committed yourself to driving innovation forward. That’s great! That’s what we need! Someone like you, really great! Okay, it didn’t work out, but keep it up and try out more things.”

Well, which reaction invites you to be innovative, courageous and creative?

 

“Don’t look for mistakes, look for solutions.”
Henry Ford

 

The rule of 9

In the creative field, there is the so-called rule of 9. This states that nine out of ten ideas are not good and that only one out of ten ideas can be used. This is why an incredible number of ideas are produced in brainstorming sessions during creative processes. It is clear that only 10% of the ideas are of value, but that you can’t get to them if you hold back the other 90%.
The Samwer brothers from Rocket Internet report something similar: “We found 10 start-ups and 9 of them flop, but the one that succeeds brings in much more than we had in costs for the other 9 together. And if we hadn’t tried 10, we probably wouldn’t have created this one either.”

The message is clear: we won’t be innovative if we don’t have the courage to try things out and fail. In other words, we need a culture that celebrates exactly that: Failed attempts and failure.

 

Established companies versus start-ups

 

Error culture: Established companies versus start-ups

Established companies

It is often said that established companies have significantly more problems in transforming a critical error culture that has existed for years into a positive approach to errors. There is definitely something to that. Some companies have been around for many decades. And in earlier times, when change was not yet the order of the day, it paid off to develop processes that were geared towards 100% error-proofing. The more thoroughly the management planned, the fewer problems there were afterwards. If you had set up a process well, you could often simply skim off profits for years.
In the meantime, however, the world has changed. New, small solutions come onto the market every year. If established companies continue to insist on 100% error-proofing, they will not be able to keep up in today’s fast-moving world.

Startups

It is also said that startups are more error-friendly per se. This may be true for some start-ups, but on the whole it is not correct. Startups usually develop around one or more founders. How they deal with mistakes and failures ultimately determines how the error culture develops in the new company. We have already discussed it: Error culture is exemplified by the management. If the founder is open to new ideas and suggestions from others, a positive error culture has a good chance of developing. But there are also founders who insist that their own ideas are implemented in exactly the same way, who don’t like it when others want to change their idea and who don’t trust that employees will also do things well in their own way. It is unlikely that the error culture will develop in a particularly constructive way.

Conclusion

Ultimately, error culture is an issue that affects everyone! Everyone has to look at their own nose. Of course, it is easier to change the culture in a start-up. This is because the company is usually small at the beginning and the cultures are not yet as well established as in a large company that has been living a certain type of error culture for 100 years.

 

How to establish a constructive error culture

 

How do you establish a constructive error culture? Tips for practice

Cultural change and the time factor

First of all: Before we show you how you can change your error culture, we would like to point out that a cultural change takes time!
They say:

  • A strategy changes in 100 days,
  • a structure needs a year
  • and changing a culture takes 5 years.

Of course, these are just rough estimates. A cultural change can also take 10 years; if you do a lot of cultural work, you can perhaps achieve a cultural change in just 2 years. – However, the message is: cultural change takes time.

 

Role model in dealing with mistakes

 

Tip 1.
Be a role model in dealing with mistakes!

Praise the open handling of mistakes!

As a manager, you play a key role in shaping the corporate culture. And of course this also includes dealing with mistakes. The way in which you as a manager react to trial and error is groundbreaking! Be friendly and appreciative when someone has made a mistake or an experiment has failed! Of course, the mistake should not happen again in this form – lessons should be learned from it.

Name your own mistakes!

Managers should also talk about their failures. So be open about your mistakes and faux pas. Go boldly ahead. If you expect others to reveal their failures, be the first to do so – and show that it’s not a bad thing!
Pleasant side effect: It has been proven that people who can admit their own mistakes appear more confident.

Show that you are fallible!

A manager recently said: “I wasn’t born a manager and I’m sometimes unsure whether I’m doing everything right. It would be great if you could give me open feedback on this! I also want to learn and get better.” This attitude is a good example of a positive error culture.

 

Give feedback

 

Tip 2.
Practice giving and receiving feedback!

Give feedback

One is friendly, reserved – would like to say what he thinks could be improved, but is ignored. The other is more the pithy type, prides himself on not mincing his words – and blows his colleagues’ every thought out of proportion. He is surprised that there is often trouble, but things don’t really change.
Both are up to something noble: they want to improve something, they have thought about it and want to share it.
However, the way they deliver their feedback does not have the desired effect. Too bad, though!

Unfortunately, we are not taught at school how to react appreciatively when we think things could be improved. However, there are conversation strategies that make it easier for you to give feedback and invite your counterpart to accept it.

Take feedback

It is not only the person giving the feedback who is asked to do so; no, the person receiving the feedback is also asked to accept it with appreciation. That’s not always easy either. How quickly we start to justify ourselves, make counter-arguments or block them. However, this signals to the person giving feedback that you do not accept their feedback. So for now, just listen.

We have written a very detailed article on this topic that should leave no questions unanswered: Giving feedback: 10 rules for successful & constructive feedback

 

“A genius doesn’t make mistakes. His errors are gateways to new discoveries.”
James Joyce

 

Tip 3.
Keep an open mind!

Signal to your employees that they can approach you if a mistake, failure or unexpected event occurs. Your employees will then know that you don’t have to cover anything up, but can count on your support and you will stay informed. Here too: Talk about your own mistakes first. This shows your employees that you do not expect perfection and builds trust.

 

Everyday feedback

Tip 4.
Make sure that feedback becomes part of everyday life!

Regular discussions instead of the most recent court

If it is completely normal to discuss the status of a project regularly at a set time, then giving feedback will eventually become part of everyday life. The more often we give and receive feedback, the better we cope with it.
In most agile methods, there are therefore regular feedback loops so that everyone has the opportunity to make suggestions for improvement at short intervals.

The retrospective

In this context, we would like to recommend the so-called Retrospective. The retrospective is a Scrum technique that also works if you do not otherwise use agile tools. The entire team meets regularly for 1 – 3 hours to discuss the current project and the nature of the collaboration. For example, the moderation can be done in turn by team members. You can read exactly how it works in our article: The Scrum Retrospective – Explanation and Practice

 

Our failures are often more successful than our successes.

Henry Ford

 

Experience with the Scrum Retrospective

Many teams have told us what it was like when they started retrospectives: It was pretty bumpy at the beginning! The participants were worried about being accused of making mistakes, being harshly criticized or stepping on someone’s toes themselves. But every time a retrospective was held, the participants felt better. It was clear to everyone that it is important and helpful to talk about the things that are not yet running optimally. The dreaded scolding á la “You made a mistake!” did not materialize and a constructive atmosphere spread. It even started to be fun to be open with each other and learn from each other. The question “Where can we do something better together?” motivated the employees and was used as an opportunity to become even better, faster and more efficient.

Content that should be discussed regularly:

  • Have we achieved what we set out to do in the previous phase? If not, why?
  • Did we stay within the set framework in terms of time, costs and work performance? If not, why?
  • What worked well? What not?
  • How can we optimize what is not yet running?

 

Trying out does not have to be perfect

 

Tip 5.
Trial and error does not necessarily produce perfect results! The 80:20 principle

Less is more

There are plenty of decisions in the company where the question arises: Should we do this or not?
In order to establish a culture of trial and error and a constructive approach to mistakes, decisions should increasingly be made along the lines of: “Hey, we’ll just give it a try. We don’t know if it will work, we can’t be sure, but let’s just give it a try.” Trying things out is not about implementing a completely sophisticated solution! Trying things out could be a prototype, a solution that has not yet been worked out, but which points you in the right direction for the next steps. One of our customers calls this type of solution a “skateboard” – in the sense of an inexpensive option: An inexpensive option that you can use to get around even if you don’t yet have a car or plane.
And if it turns out that the idea is not viable – then get rid of it! After all, it didn’t cost much.

 

If you say A, you don’t have to say B. He can also recognize that A was wrong.

Bertolt Brecht

 

The 80:20 principle

Perhaps you are familiar with the 80:20 principle, also known as the Pareto principle? It assumes that the last 20% of perfection is incredibly expensive. This does not mean that 80% is always enough; sometimes the full 100 is needed. Nevertheless, when trying it out, you should make sure that a little less is also good. If we always strive for perfection, we slow ourselves down immensely.

Definition of done

In agile working, the team jointly determines the “definition of done”: How much perfection is actually required here? What does “done” mean to us? When will we be ready?
– And it doesn’t have to be the 100% variant. For this reason, a targeted discussion is encouraged on how much is necessary to be good enough at this point.

Transparency Information

 

Tip 6.
Ensure transparency!

We discussed the results of several studies above. Fear is a factor that makes us sweep mistakes under the carpet. That’s why it’s good to face possible fear with certainty. Ensure that errors are dealt with transparently and that the relevant information is accessible to everyone.

What exactly happens in the event of an error?

If you cannot foresee exactly what the consequences of your actions will be, then you will probably be cautious at first. So let your employees know what happens in your company if an error or failed attempt occurs. The clearer the process, the better. Clarify who the contact person is and explain the next steps. This way, your employees know where they stand and don’t have to fear a thunderstorm.

Give them the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others!

It is also important that employees can see exactly how previous errors have been dealt with. On the one hand, this strengthens employees’ confidence in dealing positively with mistakes. On the other hand, it gives all employees the opportunity to learn from mistakes made. That way, everyone is on the same level – and not everyone has to repeat every mistake.

Mistakes must also be made transparent by employees!

It should be clear to everyone in your company that failures are not followed by punishment, but by improvement. In this respect, mistakes should never be covered up, as they offer an opportunity for growth, learning and improvement. Keynote speaker Peter Brandl, whom we have already quoted above, even argues that the concealment of mistakes should be sanctioned.

Analyze errors

 

Tip 7.
Analyze errors objectively!

A mistake has been made, an attempt has gone wrong – what to do? The aim now is to find out, without apportioning blame, how a mistake could occur and what improvements need to be made to prevent it from happening again. Objectivity is the key here! If your employees feel offended, they will no longer be so happy to admit their mistakes.
These three questions should come up:

  1. What exactly went wrong?
  2. What was the reason? How could the error occur?
  3. How can this be improved?

 

“If you make a mistake and don’t correct it, you make a second one.”

Confucius

 

Tip 8.
Bring about change!

Imagine you are an employee in your company. You have noticed that something is not running smoothly in a process. They communicated this, it was discussed in detail, they said they had learned from it. Wonderful.
But nothing happens. Everything remains the same. There is no change. And this is not the first time.
Not particularly motivating, is it? How often will you report errors? You probably won’t feel like it at some point – it’s no use anyway.
You can probably read it between the lines: Make sure that change actually happens when errors are found!

Error Event Celebrations

 

Tip 9.
Celebrate mistakes!

Admitting mistakes is one thing – celebrating mistakes is another. It makes sense to give mistakes an event, to make them socially acceptable. This takes them out of the dirty corner and signals to your employees that it is completely okay and sometimes even cool to disclose your failures.

Fuck Up Nights

For the sake of completeness, we would like to describe a phenomenon that is widespread in the agile scene: so-called fuck-up nights. The aim of these evenings is for everyone to talk about their failures so that everyone can learn from them. The atmosphere is positive – people are celebrated for sharing their experience of failure. Cross-company Fuck Up Nights have become established. Start-up founders often talk about previous, unsuccessful start-ups.

Learning rounds

So-called learning rounds are a useful equivalent in the company. Employees from the entire company get together across silos and discuss topics from which they can learn together. And of course we also talk about things that have gone wrong. So it is becoming more and more “normal” to discuss mistakes and failures.

Learning round

 

Conclusion

Accept your own mistakes and learning processes!
What else we would like to give you as a manager:

  • Be patient with yourself!
  • Try it out!
  • Not everything you want to implement in management will work straight away. They will also fail. Don’t get angry; learn from it!
  • Try changing the culture in your company! Remember – it takes time.
  • You don’t need to be perfect.
  • If you notice that you have fallen back into an old pattern, talk about it openly. For example:
    “I realized that my perfection was getting the better of me again. I reacted in a way that wasn’t right. I apologize for that.” – This also establishes a constructive error culture!

 

Accept your own mistakes

 

Background and further reading

Would you like to delve a little deeper into the topics of error culture and error management? Wonderful! – We have listed articles here that deal with these or related topics.

We have also listed the studies discussed in the article – and added a few more articles or interviews. We hope you enjoy reading it!

 

Article of the berliner team

 

Studies on error culture

 

 

Studies and newspaper articles on the topic of error culture

 

Study on error culture in international comparison

Background to the study Error culture in international comparison by Prof. Fese, Leuphana University of Lüneburg

  • Exciting interview with Prof. Michael Frese on the topics of error prevention culture, errors and innovation in Report Psychologie (ISSN 0344-9602), the professional journal of the Berufsverband Deutscher Psychologinnen und Psychologen e.V. (Professional Association of German Psychologists):
    Mistakes are not wrong
  • Link to Michael Frese at Leuphana University

 

Study by EY

Background to the study by EY (formerly: Ernst & Young)
More than 1,000 managers and employees from German companies were surveyed. Of these, 800 employees and 218 managers were from the mechanical engineering, transportation and logistics, automotive manufacturers and suppliers, banking and insurance sectors. The study was conducted online in 2018.

 

Study How the Germany trend study works

Our data comes from the fourth edition of the So arbeitet Deutschland trend study. The personnel consultant SThree regularly surveys more than 1,000 employees, freelancers, career starters, specialists and managers throughout Germany and provides a comparison of the reality and wishes of the German working world. It’s worth taking a look at the site:
How Germany works

 

Study Frequency and causes of defensive decisions in public administration

The research team from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development surveyed 950 managers at a public institution. Original study: Artinger, F. M., Artinger, S., & Gigerenzer, G. (2019). C. Y. A.: Frequency and causes of defensive decisions in public administration. Business Research, 12(1), 9-25.

 

Gallup Engagement Index 2019

Every year, adult employees are interviewed for the Gallup Engagement Index. Our data is based on the Gallup Engagement Index 2019, for which 1,000 employees were surveyed between February 15 and March 15. Gallup states that the results are representative of the workforce in Germany.

 

Analysis of error cultures

We also find the work of these scientists, who deal with the analysis of error cultures, interesting. In German-speaking countries, these include

 

Time article about Fuck Up Nights

The authors

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Oliver Grätsch
Michelle 550
Michelle Templin
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Christian Grätsch
Matthias-Beikert-550-550
Matthias Beikert
Susanne_Grätsch_1_550x550px
Susanne Grätsch
Monika Bt 550x550
Monika Steininger
Kai_Hübner_550x550px
Kai Hübner
Philipp Andresen 500x550
Philipp Andresen
berliner_team_Isabell_1
Anna Isabell Arendt
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Dr. Claudia Schmidt
Inga_Kühn_550x550px
Inga Kühn
BT_Web_Team_Knebel_550x550
Kassandra Knebel
BT_Web_Team_Lehmann_550x550
Claudia Lehmann
Komplettes Team

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