Shifting the Blame: Mistakes As Learning Opportunities for Employees

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5783612156_21ff40ee84_zAlthough making mistakes is a part of the human experience, mistakes can be embarrassing, sometimes leading individuals to cover up and keep errors secret. This behavior likely has its origin in our socialization. Errors can be perceived by others to be a lack of competency, and making mistakes can lead one to have a negative self-assessment, as well as an increased expectation of penalties as a direct consequence of a mistake.

Organizational failure culture, which is an integral part of corporate culture, may encourage these negative perceptions of mistakes. In reality, the perception and response to errors made by individuals is not so limited and altogether negative. The perception of errors is more of a continuum between two stances, error avoidance and error management. In the perspective of error avoidance, errors are viewed as an unnecessary risk. This is where the Current Issue Cover“culture of blame” comes in. It is characterized by a high importance placed on identifying the person responsible, rather than identifying the cause for the error.

In contrast, error management views errors as an inevitable phenomenon in corporate environment, which are impossible to avoid. Each error is recognized as a potential resource and learning opportunity. In this perspective, errors can support complex learning processes and expand possibilities toward further development and options for action. Contrary to problem-oriented error avoidance, the error management approach is solution-oriented and reflective.

Since organizations can learn from both good and bad outcomes, employers should reconsider how they perceive and respond to employee errors. A company can encourage employees to learn from failure by establishing a culture that supports employees and highlights the importance of communicating about errors. A constructive “learning from failure culture” should enable employees to talk about mistakes, deal with them constructively, learn from them, and, if possible, to take advantage of them. The goal is not about looking for someone to blame or ruminating on past mistakes. Rather, the goal is to reduce fear while increasing security and stability, ultimately leading to error minimization.

The article “From a ‘Culture of Blame’ to an Encouraged ‘Learning From Failure Culture'” from Business Perspectives and Research delves further into this issue. You can click here to read the article free for the next two weeks. You can also click here to sign up for e-alerts and receive email notifications for the latest research from Business Perspectives and Research!

*Image attributed to Project Morpheus (CC)

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