Reader Lukas T. is leading a delicate pilot project. His employees block themselves because they are afraid of making mistakes. How can he encourage them to dare more?
SZ reader Lukas T. asks:
In our company, I manage a critical area in which errors immediately result in critical media reporting and complex legal procedures. We are facing a technology change next year. Experienced employees successfully used the new technology in a pilot project, but walked a tightrope in the first few months with many unexpected critical situations. Something similar is imminent for my employees, who are much more fearful and cautious and view the innovation with reservations. You expect a safe working instruction. Nobody wants to be held responsible for serious mistakes. How do I get them to actively participate in the development of smoothly functioning processes?
Georg Kaiser answers:
During the implementation, provide for framework conditions that allow a certain fault tolerance – for example through downstream backup processes. Also, deal with errors differently. Explain to your employees that it is not just about introducing new technology, but – at least for the period of implementation – also about dealing with errors differently.
Your employees operate in a setting in which experts define error-free processes and procedural instructions must be followed. If errors occur, they are interpreted as the individual failure of individual employees. These endeavor to do everything correctly and according to regulations. In such a mindset, securing is more important than experimentation.
You can counter the fear of failure by letting the pilot project staff report on stumbling blocks, learning steps and success factors. An excursion including an exchange of experience with a company in your industry that practices open handling of mistakes makes such a culture tangible.
When adapting a new technology to the requirements of practice, the right results are not yet certain at the beginning. They have to be worked out together. The processes are fine-tuned through trial and error. Errors have to be recognized and corrected quickly. Such a procedure is more successful if the participants speak openly about misjudgments. So everyone learns from each other's mistakes and near-mistakes. A culture of trust, experimentation and mutual support can develop.
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Such an open exchange among colleagues does not come about automatically. Especially not when mistakes were the worst thing that could have happened. Such a cultural change must be guided, exemplified and anchored in fixed discussion formats. For example, in the form of a weekly exchange of experience on critical situations with the aim of helping colleagues not to fall into similar cases to what happened to you.
An open and constructive handling of errors is important on the path of implementing a new technology. Maybe your employees will get a taste for it and keep it. In the event that process accuracy and defined procedures promise more success after successful implementation, think about how you can get your employees to think, decide and take responsibility. Given the pace of technological progress, this will not have been the last implementation.
Georg Kaiser works as a personnel officer in Bremen with a focus on team, managerial and organizational development.
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