If you have ambitions to improve and grow your business, you’ll probably not achieve it just through hard work or bringing in additional resources.

Sometimes you have to stretch yourself and step out of your own comfort zone.

And if you do fail, don’t worry, as learning from your mistakes will help you make some positive strides towards attaining your desired goals.

"Failure is the opportunity to begin more intelligently"
Henry Ford

Recently I read a book called  Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed . A compelling read.

I have found myself sharing it with many of my clients since.

Syed shares his ideas and propositions with readers on how to create a culture in organisations whereby it is not shameful or embarrassing to own up to our mistakes.

Instead, he expounds a culture that enables organisations to learn from errors, rather than being threatened by them.

It is inevitable that we all make mistakes: some may be big and others may be small, but are we brave enough to own up to them? More importantly, do we learn from them and therefore change our behaviours.

But, where the real change lies is when we choose to share our mistakes with others. 

Sharing our mistakes, although daunting, results in us learning from each other, eliminating the possibility of someone repeating the same mistake, meaning we – as a whole organisation or team – can improve from past failures.

I admit I’ve made mistakes. Holding my hands up, I recall an incident several years ago in my position as a sales director.

I chose to deviate from the prescribed ordering process, with the sole objective in mind of increasing the profit margin.

I thought I was being clever, circumnavigating the system. In actual fact, this deviance came back to bite, when our largest customer in the UK rang to say there was a fundamental part missing from their order when delivered.

Apologetic and embarrassed, I then owned up to the managing director, whose response still resonates within me: “Make sure you share your mistake with your team; learn from it and make sure no-one else makes the same mistake.”

Interestingly, after sharing my mistake with my team, a couple of them told me in confidence that they too had made similar mistakes, but never owned up to it.

They had covered up their mistakes, trying to forget and brush them under the carpet.

What struck me here is that if they had been open, I might have learned from their mistakes.

If so, we would have had a happy customer and saved our business £50,000 rectification costs, as opposed to finding ourselves in that unenviable situation.

Consequently, after sharing this error, we actually found a way to secure the process using IT systems, meaning the same mistake wouldn’t be made again.

This echoes back to Syed’s message – the importance of creating a workspace where individuals feel confident and comfortable in sharing their mistakes.

How can you create a working culture that embraces failure?

It starts with you . Lead from the top – changes are often most successful if they start at the top, infiltrating down and allowing people to realise that it is all right to make mistakes. Look at your position as a manager.

Share both your challenges and your mistakes with your staff.

Meet regularly with your key staff and peers, asking for honest comments on ways to improve your own performance.

Instead of asking for feedback, ask for feedforward – look for constructive criticism on your personal behaviours that you could change or improve to become a better leader.

Encourage honesty and truth.  Make openness and transparency key principles in your business, asking your managers and team leaders to follow the same ideology.

Your overall aim should be to move away from a blame culture, instead helping employees to support each other and reject the fear of failure.

This should allow everyone to become more open, sharing experiences and ensuring others learn from their gains and mistakes.

Embrace change.  Ensure you obtain and review feedback data on customer service, product quality, internal processes and communication – it is one of the most valuable lessons in learning how to improve your business.

Embrace any potential opportunities for change, and challenge your employees to look for new ways to improve in all aspects across the business.

Don’t accept ‘the norm’; staying static is a deadly disease in business.

Changes don’t have to be big, as Sir David Brailsford, Performance Director of British Cycling (2012) quoted “it’s important to understand the aggregation of marginal gains”. All these little improvements will add up over time.

Practice makes perfect.  If you’re about to launch something new or planning on a process change, ensure you carry out a test or pilot scheme beforehand.

Test these changes on a sample big enough to ensure you can obtain some robust feedback.

Having a pilot run will allow you to see any potential errors, eliminating further difficulty or failure when you actually make the change.

Talk to your staff and consider what you need to adapt before launching that new product, service or process to the masses.

Failure does not mean the end. Be sure to pick yourself up and move on. 

Many of the world’s greatest modern inventions came about from numerous failures of what they set out to do – look at 3M with the now famous Post-it-notes.

For years, a 3M scientist researching adhesives struggled to find a use for his invention, but that didn’t keep him from touting the merits of his creation to colleagues, eventually leading to the iconic office staple.

WD40 got its name from Water Displacement version 40 and the original brief was to stop rockets rusting; its original name was Rocket Oil.

Bubblewrap, for example, started life as a wallpaper design, but failed to get any interest.

And, famously, James Dyson tested 5,271 prototypes before he was successful with launching the Dyson Cyclone vacuum cleaner.

Just because you might have made a mistake, it doesn’t have to end there. Embrace failure as an opportunity to try again.

Support and encourage your staff.  

Aim to improve their openness and honesty, attempting to make the shameful notion of failure as a feature of everyday conversation.

We all prefer to promote the positive outcomes, focusing on what we did well, but that doesn’t always open up an opportunity to learn.

Rather than asking staff, “what went well last week?” try asking, “What didn’t go so well last week?”

Then help them look for different ways to make this week better.

This will automatically establish a nurturing working environment, hopefully working to remove the notion of failure that mistakes usually are tarnished with and resulting in more effective work.

Want to know more about how to improve your way of working and improve your business?

Why not join me for our next free business seminars?

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Thursday July 19, 8.30am to 10.30am

Kendal Rugby Club Booking:   https://www.businessdoctors.co.uk/event/777/work-smarter-not-harder-make-your-business-work-for-you


Friday July 20, 8am to 10am

Crown & Mitre, Carlisle Booking:   https://www.businessdoctors.co.uk/event/883/work-smarter-not-harder-make-your-business-work-for-you

If you are looking to review and then grow your business, Business Doctors Cumbria offers a free business health check to help you to establish a clear vision and understand the steps to fulfil your aspirations.

Book a free business health check : http://www.businessdoctors.co.uk/health-check

Contact Peter Fleming  on 07966 686112 Email:  peterfleming@businessdoctors.co.uk Website:   https://www.businessdoctors.co.uk/business-consultant/cumbria <script>var hideInlineMPU=1;</script>