Flourish And Failure: Learning From Mistakes

Eldar Itlyashev, Executive VP and COO, Kavkaz Express, LLC.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” This quote is often credited to Albert Einstein. Mistakes in life, business and relationships are inevitable. We’re all human—they happen.

But what we do with these mistakes can be the difference between flourishing and failure—and we know this for certain. So, how do we flourish from our mistakes?

Types Of Mistakes

Let’s first review mistakes. I’ve identified four types of human mistakes. If we understand each type, it can be easier to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

• Slip-based: These are mistakes associated with everyday, familiar tasks that require little conscious thought. Examples include mixing up documents or sending an email to the wrong person.

• Lapse-based: This means forgetting to do things—skipping a step in a process. Lapses often occur in busy, stressful environments.

• Rule-based: These mistakes include making the wrong decision and errors of judgment.

• Knowledge-based: These mistakes stem from inexperience and a lack of knowledge. Decisions are not made based on facts.

When mistakes do happen, it’s critical to take the time to understand what happened and why. If we don’t analyze the “what” and “why,” we’ll continually be at risk for making the same mistake.

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Analysis, however, is only half the battle. Once the situation is understood, it is important to document and record it. This is how we can turn a mistake into a learning opportunity—both for your current and future organizations.

Recorded Processes And Historical Data

“The devil is in the details” is an apt idiom and sound advice for company leaders to follow when documenting and recording mistakes. If you think some mistakes are just too obvious to capture, think again. It may be a big reason why the same mistakes are repeated.

These records are called many things: guiding principles, rules, policies and procedures, or standard operating procedures (SOP). What matters is that your company has an official repository for how things are done, what is expected and the proper steps to execute.

Playing catch-up is always tough, as is learning on the fly. As your company grows, by definition, everything becomes more complex—from onboarding new employees and establishing the proper way to answer the phone to resolving workplace conflicts, companies can’t leave anything to chance. Establishing your policies and procedures early and updating them often becomes an invaluable tool to help manage the complexities of growth.

The line between what’s a policy and what’s a procedure can sometimes be blurry, but thinking about them in this way may help:

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Policies: These tend to be bigger, overarching tenets of your organization, and they are often more strategically focused. In many cases, they can help you avoid rule-based mistakes.

Procedures: These tend to be more prescriptive, step-by-step actions that must be taken to help avoid slip-, lapse- and knowledge-based mistakes.

By having this library, you can help to ensure new employees understand the “what,” “why” and “how” right from the start. Establishing policies and procedures can also help fix the problem of departing employees taking the learning with them and leaving a void.

Think of the policies and procedures as intellectual assets of the company: a strategic mechanism that transfers all this valuable information and learning. Breaking down silos and encouraging cross-functional interaction is the goal of any successful company. But when more people are involved, it can also make it difficult to isolate mistakes or identify who made a mistake.

If strict adherence to the policies and procedures are followed, it can help you get to the root of where the problem occurred—as all the procedures and actions become observable. Therefore, employees have a road map and best practices to help avoid making mistakes.

Keeping Up With An Evolving World

The world constantly changes, competition changes, consumer taste changes—and so must companies. This means policies and procedures must be continually updated and evolve. Continuous learning is the hallmark of great companies. Policies and procedures were never meant to be static documents. What worked yesterday could be a huge mistake tomorrow.

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Keeping the policies and procedures refreshed and current must be accompanied by ongoing training. This works on two fronts: 1) Your workforce will have the latest and best learning; and 2) they will be confident in knowing what is expected and the steps and tools needed to deliver the results.

As stated earlier, mistakes are an inevitable part of life. And even the best laid plans and the most polished policies and procedures can’t guarantee mistakes won’t happen. But they can help put you ahead of the curve and ensure, at the very least, the chance of them happening again and again is greatly reduced.

On the flip side, great learning can take place. I’ve found the status quo in business is a death sentence. Standing still never works, so change and mistakes are needed. Let’s just make sure we’re making the right change and new mistakes.

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