This week’s riff:

Last week, a client complained to me that her recent investigations into some operational issues had led her Finance Director to warn her against carrying out “witch hunts”. He was worried that people would feel victimized by being asked about mistakes and errors of judgement.

The fact is, however, that there can be no improvement without learning. No learning without understanding (the facts of the situation). And no understanding without a willingness to share and uncover the truth.

It’s not so much a “witch hunt” as a “truth hunt” that my client was pursuing. Her problem, like those faced by leaders in most organisations, is that many people simply do not have the self-confidence to openly share mistakes and ask for help. A critical leadership task is to create an environment and culture where sharing mistakes and a shared desire to learn is the routine starting point for performance improvement.

I recently read a book by Matthew Syed called Black Box Thinking. In the book, Syed compares the approach taken to learning between the healthcare industry and the airline industry.

Syed’s evidence compellingly highlights the resistance to investigating or learning from accidental patient fatalities in healthcare. “I’m sorry, these things happen – we did everything we could”. And contrasts healthcare’s closed approach to the airline industry’s completely open and independent investigations into crashes and ‘near misses’.

What’s more, the lessons from these crash investigations are shared across the industry, enabling airline safety to increase markedly over the years. Improvements in patient safety in the UK, US and other western nations, on the other hand, have been far less impressive or widespread.

What about your organization? How have you created an environment and culture that shares failures, investigate root causes and learns from errors to drive better performance? How do you ensure everyone welcomes and engages with your “truth hunts”?


Off The Record: I Want You by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

The truth can’t hurt you

It’s just like the dark –

It scares you witless

But in time you see things clear and stark


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.