Creating A Culture That Doesn’t Fear Mistakes

If we want our organizations to grow and succeed, we must fill them with good people who are committed to doing their jobs with excellence. Especially in the financial industry, there are some things for which there is simply no margin for error.

We know this. And yet, we also know that we’re all human and mistakes happen. Sometimes our errors are unavoidable, sometimes negligible, and sometimes even laughable. At other times, our mistakes are large, embarrassing, and costly.

Mistakes happen. So, the question becomes: How can we treat those mistakes as more of an opportunity than a loss?

In organizational cultures with a “mistake-positive” kind of attitude, people are actually rewarded for making the right kind of mistakes. Rather than berating their staff for taking a risk and trying something new and failing, leaders encourage active learning from mistakes as a way of advancing the organization’s agenda and goals.

The benefits of a culture that doesn’t fear mistakes.

Is there anything to gain from openly embracing mistakes? Yes, I believe that there is. In fact, mistakes are one of our biggest opportunities to increase bottom-line performance. Long term performance gains are achieved through innovative thinking, organization-wide learning and improvements to our processes and systems.

The only way we can achieve these types of gains is when our people are not afraid to make mistakes, learn from them, and share that learning with others.

In cultures that don’t fear mistakes, failures are brought out into the open, evaluated and appropriate changes are made quickly. As Soichiro Honda, founder of Honda Motors, wrote, “Success is only achieved through repeated failures and introspection.”

The alternative environment – one in which mistakes are feared – results in time and energy wasted in an effort to hide failures or find someone else to blame them on. In this type of an environment, learning that results in improvement is impossible.

It seems that one of the keys to creating a “mistake-positive” culture, is in helping people understand the difference between mistakes that are acceptable and those that are unacceptable.

Here are six questions that can help distinguish the difference:

  1. Was the mistake haphazard or the result of blatant negligence? Or was the error made while making an honest effort to improve current practices?
  1. Could the mistake have been prevented with due diligence? Or was the blunder largely unavoidable?
  1. Was the mistake made because feedback from those who could have helped was either ignored or simply not sought? Or was it the result of misinformation, miscommunication or a hole in the general knowledge base?
  1. Was the mistake a result of a manipulative or self-serving agenda? Or was it actually a failed attempt at furthering the mission or goals of the organization?
  1. Was the error an ethical lapse or an honest mistake?
  1. Is it a mistake that’s been repeated several times despite correction? Or, is it something that’s come up for the first time?

When everyone understands the difference that such questions illuminate, and further understands that acceptable and unacceptable mistakes will be handled differently, the entire organization benefits. Communication blocks are uncovered, learning gaps identified, new ideas are born, and processes are changed for the better.

Possibly the greatest benefit to creating a culture in which your staff doesn’t cower from failure, is that it’s an opportunity to put our people first. Which is, after all, what Credit Unions do best.

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.


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