What can organisations learn from the mistakes employees make?

Henley Business School's Professor Ben Laker highlights how organisations can foster a culture of learning through embracing mistakes.
By: | January 11, 2023

When employees feel safe trying something new and making mistakes without fear of repercussions or judgement, they are more likely to step outside their comfort zones, develop innovative solutions, and move the organisation forward.

Writing in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Ben Laker, a Professor of Leadership at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School, explained that the goal should be to create a culture of continuous improvement where everyone is comfortable making mistakes and learning from them.

Reframing incidents as opportunities is one of three ways organisations can use failures to move forward. According to Laker, it is better to encourage employees to try, even if they might fail, than to avoid failure at all costs. By incentivising employees to learn, performance metrics can be better shaped, and accepting failure as part of the process can foster innovation and creativity. 

Likewise, employees need to feel supported and have access to the resources they need to succeed. He suggested that teams may need project management software or a database of best practices, or they may benefit from mentoring programmes. Ensuring that teams are equipped with the right tools and training can go a long way in helping them learn from their mistakes, he noted.

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He also advised leaders to reward people for sharing knowledge by incentivising and congratulating those who share their institutional knowledge. For instance, leaders might reward team members who document processes and share information or create a budget for external training or shadowing.

For an organisation to learn from an incident, team members must also be comfortable discussing failure or raising potential problems without fear of retaliation. Laker advised organisations to review what went wrong and move forward. By using post-incident reviews as learning moments, organisations can continuously improve, grow, and reach their goals and objectives, he concluded.