Most people understand that we learn best from mistakes. However many business environments waste valuable opportunities in the manner they deal with mistakes. Frequently, organizations develop a zero mistake environment that deals harshly with those who make mistakes. We suggest that, for certain types of mistakes, the opposite reaction might be more valuable for the company, as well as for the individual as a budding leader.

We agree that there are a number of kinds of mistakes that do deserve strict policy and treatment. Mistakes due to negligence, carelessness, apathy, or ignorance should never be tolerated, especially those that put the company or its employees at risk.

However well-reasoned initiatives that turn out to be the wrong course deserve a different reaction.  People learn from mistakes. The company now has a more valuable employee, one who has just learned a lesson and now knows why and how not to make the same mistake again. To fire them, may cut free an “asset” at the very moment they have become more valuable. By aggressively reacting negatively to the mistake-maker, you will also likely curtail most if not all future innovation and initiative from that person and from the leadership culture around them. If their mistake was based on rational analysis leading to the wrong conclusion, you now have an easy tweak to get the initiative on the right path, now with greater certainty of success. The mistake could also become a teachable moment for others in the company as well.

Are you maximizing value from mistakes?
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