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Recently I was studying Google’s management philosophy where I was struck by one of their principles: “make mistakes well”. On initial presentation, this would seem to be counter intuitive, yet it is hard to dismiss when examining the success of the Google enterprise. Surely, “making mistakes well”, is an oxymoron? Over recent years we have sought to crush failure in our organisations, and this has resulted in burgeoning bureaucracy with the resulting diminution of innovation. Disruption in business is revolutionising the way that we work and deliver services. It throws the rules out, and reinvents the way work is done by focussing on the outcome.
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A conversation that still rings in my mind is one with a person who was busily pre-filling a number of hazard inspections for the day during a pre-start meeting. He proudly described how he knew exactly what to look for and more importantly what his supervisor who collected the forms expected to see. It seemed what was once intended as a good risk management practice had now become a pointless tick and flick exercise.
It started me thinking about how we can shift the focus to enabling people to take responsibility for their work environments, rather than meeting bureaucratic accountabilities.
I asked a plumber if he could teach me how he connects the pipes. He stopped for a second, looking confused, put down his tools and said ‘you can’t want to know that, what are you really here for?’.
Our people are not used to being asked how they create success, they are instead used to being controlled and told what, and how, to do things. We normally only ask questions to search for deviations, we don’t try and understand variances or successes created by our people.
This is why I help businesses to connect to the knowledge their people have. Systems don’t create safety, people do.