Which best practices are flawed

Shit happens: from error culture to learning culture - that's how it works!

Did you tear a deadline or ruin a project? In this country, that can quickly herald the end of a career or even cost the job. Where does this negative view of errors come from and what is an error culture? Why is it so important to deal with failure positively and what are the consequences of a negative feedback culture? In addition: 6 practical tips on how to introduce a constructive error culture in your company, in which everyone learns from their mistakes and thereby makes the company more successful.

The most important information about errors and error culture at a glance

What is a mistake?

An error describes an undesirable event (for example in a company). An error can arise from individual negligence or it can be traced back to an error in the system.

What is a positive error culture?

Companies that practice a positive error culture have a certain basic attitude towards errors. Employees are explicitly allowed to make mistakes and talk about them without fear of punishment.

Why is an error culture important?

A constructive error culture in the company is important, as it offers the opportunity for improvements and increases the work motivation of the employees. Because only those who make mistakes can learn from them. The open handling of errors should also be welcomed with regard to an organization's ability to innovate.

Definition: What is an error culture or feedback culture?

"Show me someone who has not yet made a mistake, and I will show you a person who has never achieved anything." (T. Roosevelt)

Too often companies still reproachfully say “Who made this mistake?” Instead of “How did this mistake come about?” In order to find out the cause of an error and to avoid it in the future.

What is a mistake?

Before one can define what an error culture is, it must first be clarified what an error actually is. This is commonly understood by a mistake Occurrence of an adverse event (for example, delaying a project or causing financial damage to the company) either individually justified is (ignorance, negligence or intent) or on one error in the system indicates.

What is an error culture?

An error culture describes how the Dealing with errors and their consequences within a company or a group of people.

In an open and sanction-free error culture Mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow recognized and motivated employees to admit mistakes they have made. It also wears a real and open Feedback culture helps to bind employees to the company and to prevent future mistakes.

Important: Not every mistake is an opportunity to learn. Mistakes that are made out of carelessness or intent, for example, must also have corresponding consequences - the same applies if the same mistake is made several times.

Dealing with mistakes also depends on the culture. There are countries in which failure is almost part of good form, for example in the USA. Steve Jobs is a prime example: Before the Apple founder invented his revolutionary products that many people use in everyday life, he also delivered a few failures. But he was not impressed by it and used the experience from the mistakes made to further improve the quality of his products.

Definition: what is defect management?

Error management promotes you open handling of mistakesso that these can be prevented in the future. Companies with active error management operate systematically Error prevention, error detection, error diagnosis and evaluation and initiate appropriate countermeasures to minimize the possible serious consequences of errors.

Where does the fear of making mistakes come from?

The existing error culture in Germany is shaped by Taylorism, a system of scientific management with a focus on avoiding errors. According to management coach Antje Heimsoeth, we were brought up in school to to focus primarily on our mistakes and not on what we did well. That influenced our way of looking at work results.

It is therefore not surprising that "in Germany it is easier to conduct research on the sexual behavior of older managers than on their mistakes," says Michael Frese from the University of Lüneburg. The researcher compared the tolerance for errors in 61 countries around the world, Germany landed in penultimate place - only Singapore was worse.

In the context of an EY study on the topic of error culture in 2018, 57% of employees were of the opinion that errors in the company are not admitted because they fear being the bearer of bad news Pawn sacrifice to become. According to the survey, 66% of managers believe that anything can be openly discussed with them - but only 42% of employees share this view. It is understandable that only 35% of employees feel motivated by their superiors to take new, but perhaps riskier, paths in their everyday work.

7 reasons why a positive handling of mistakes is important in the company

You now know what is meant by an error culture and error management and why failure simply does not exist in the minds of executives. In the following, we present 7 reasons why you should change your mindset and deal with mistakes openly and constructively.

1. Continuous improvement becomes possible

Errors are necessary because this is the only way to improve products and development processes in the long term. In the Toyota production system, every employee is required to continuously contribute to improving the system at their workplace, even with small optimization measures. It is therefore important that the workforce is encouraged to work independently by placing trust in them. In this way, they will not only be doing their work according to the rules, but will also feel responsible for their work and also look for ways to reduce errors and inefficiencies.

2. Efficient work is encouraged

Say goodbye to your perfectionism thinking today. This just eats up an unnecessary amount of time and costs you your last nerves. Do you know the Pareto principle? Accordingly, you will achieve 80% of your results in 20% of the time spent. If you continue to work on a task for longer, your efficiency curve will deteriorate. Instead, promote the motto “good instead of perfect” in front of your employees on a day-to-day basis. Danger: Sometimes you also need 100% perfection at work. For example, think of a surgeon, where a mistake can indeed be fatal.

3. Otherwise, work motivation and self-esteem will not work

If you blame an employee for making a mistake, it is not very good for work ethic and self-esteem. Because this type of error culture only promotes the fear of renewed "failure" and is guaranteed to block any creativity.

4. Troubleshooting is made easier

If errors can be talked about openly in your company, this makes troubleshooting a lot easier. Often the real damage only arises from the attempt to sit out a mistake instead of limiting the negative consequences of the mistake made. Remember: harsher penalties don't prevent mistakes; instead, they encourage their cover-up. Do you react annoyed, helpless or angry as soon as an employee admits a mistake to you? Take this as an opportunity to rethink the current error culture in the company.

5. Innovation is made possible

In modern companies, making mistakes is inevitable in development processes; this is the only way to create innovative products. Nowadays a company needs these innovations in order to remain competitive. The fear of mistakes, however, paralyzes the creative cells in the brain; Perfection and innovation are mutually exclusive. According to Andreas Gebhardt, the biggest mistake in a person's life is what they regret the longest, that they didn't dare to do something in the first place. He encourages people to be more willing to take risks and not be guided by fears of making mistakes. Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon Web Services, told in an interview with brandeins how “lateral thinkers” are encouraged to implement new ideas at the Amazon company: Critics would have to put their objections in writing on six pages and would do so if they simply had a bad gut feeling think twice.

6. Confident handling of criticism is the order of the day

The inability to express criticism productively often results in conflicts that sometimes enormously hinder the committed fulfillment of tasks. The ability to formulate and receive feedback and criticism in a non-hurtful way is central to change processes and must be practiced constantly.

7. Mistakes can be used for marketing

Advertise with mistakes? Why not! With storytelling, you can convey the message to consumers about how difficult some problems are and how many failures it took until a model finally met the strict requirements and was able to go on sale. Of course, the drum of advertising is not stirred during the development of the product, but only after the product has been launched.

Consequences of a negative culture of error

A negative error culture has serious consequences for the development of a company.
  • Employee demotivation
    For nearly 20 years, Gallup has been researching the emotional attachment of a company's employees to their employer. The frightening finding: around two thirds of employees work according to regulations and hardly feel tied to their company. 16% no longer see any ties to their company and have already quit internally. This is also due to an error culture that only penalizes errors. Ultimately, negative feedback leads to even more stress, pressure to perform and unhealthy perfectionism.
  • Negative feedback slows down personal initiative
    Getting feedback on work done is very important for employees. Because if you don't get any feedback, it's difficult to assess your own performance. However, if you only react with criticism to bad investments or incorrect assessments, you may no longer dare to make riskier decisions in the future. Because after all, you could fail. But all innovative ideas are doomed to failure in advance. Did you know that Teflon was discovered by accident? A chemist had experimented with refrigerants and stored them too long. Finally he found colorless crumbs in the glass bottle - the hour of birth of Teflon.

It is worth taking a look at the extensive study by Gallup!

No success without errors: 6 practical tips on how to establish a positive error culture in your company

Have you been won over by the advantages of a constructive error culture and, as a manager, would you like to become a pioneer in another way of dealing with errors in the company? We'll give you 6 practical tips to get you started.

1. Take the first step

Lead by example when introducing an open error culture in the company. As a manager, you make a decisive contribution to shaping the corporate culture. Do you remember a mistake of your own that made long-term measures necessary due to its consequences? If you share this example with employees, you will show them that mistakes are human and can be better contained if disclosed in a timely manner. You will see: This open handling of mistakes will instill respect in your employees. Also praise employees when they confidently turn to you with an admission of a mistake.

2. Record the new attitude in writing

Record the productive handling of errors in writing for everyone. Formulate your new attitude in the company philosophy or your core values: Employees are allowed to make mistakes and talk about them without having to fear sanctions. That gives security and creates trust among the employees. In addition, anyone can refer to these principles at any time.

3. Give appreciative feedback

So that we can learn from mistakes, you should think about setting up 360 degree feedback in the company. In such meetings, communication should take place in a trusting atmosphere without blame and it should be possible to talk openly about the causes, consequences and the elimination of errors. Don't just focus on mistakes and deficits, but always see the positive results. This is the only way to initiate a learning process and to design future work without errors.

An open feedback culture, which is especially important to Generation Z, is not a one-way street: Not only should you give your employees feedback on their work, but they should also be able to give you feedback on your goals and mistakes. This not only promotes employee satisfaction with their job, but ultimately helps the company to develop further. What role does a platform such as B. can play Culture Amp, you will find out below.

4. Celebrate your FuckUps

Mistake happened? Shit happens! Celebrate the small and big mistakes in your company. Regardless of whether it is fuck-ups in agile organizations or learning sessions in traditional companies: It is important that you sit down at a table where mistakes and failures are the most normal thing in the world and where you learn from each other.

This removes mistakes from the dirty corner and signals to employees that talking about them is not a drama, on the contrary, it can sometimes be cool.

Important: Those who literally “let their pants down” in front of their colleagues enjoy immunity. This means: His openness must not be used against him in any feedback or in any salary negotiations. Regardless of whether it's fuck-ups in agile organizations or learning sessions in traditional companies: It is only important that you sit down at a table where mistakes and failures are the most normal thing in the world and where you can learn from each other.

5. Offer a transparent way of dealing with errors

As mentioned above: Fear prevents employees from admitting their mistakes. After all, you don't know what the consequences of wrongdoing will be. As a supervisor, face this fear with certainty. Introduce a transparent procedure on how to deal with errors in the company and make this information available to all employees.

6. Analyze errors soberly

The child fell into the well, the mistake happened and the employee is standing in front of you with a bright red head? Now is the time to keep a cool head. Without blaming, find out what exactly happened, how it came about, and what can be done so that this mistake does not repeat itself in the future. Even if it may be difficult for you at first: It is essential to separate the person and the problem during the analysis!

The 3 don'ts when dealing with errors in operation

If you want to establish a new error culture in the company, you should definitely take these 3 don'ts when dealing with errors made by your employees to heart.

1. Find a scapegoat

Mistakes are taboo - this is still the prevailing opinion in not a few companies. The result: if something does happen, you immediately go in search of a “culprit” in order to have a scapegoat to pillory. The mistake is tied to a person instead of soberly analyzing how the mistake could have come about, as in a constructive error culture. This means that the self-esteem of the employee suffers from the accusation and he will do everything possible to prevent another "failure" in any case.

2. Micromanagement

Has an employee put a project in the sand? That is indeed annoying. But your reaction as a manager shouldn't be to keep a close eye on your colleague's fingers for every activity in the future. Otherwise, this lack of trust has a negative impact on the job satisfaction of the colleague and may prompt them to quit sooner or later.

3. Make accusations

The project deadline was torn? A team member screwed up a project? Occurs and has certainly happened to you as a manager.Don't mess around for days or even weeks, but consider together how you can do it better together in the future. Was there perhaps a faulty communication in the team? Then a tool that documents projects (e.g. Asana or Jira) could help. Did the mistake happen because the employee was not adequately trained? Then perhaps further training should be considered.

Positive error culture: Best practice AVANTGARDE experts

AVANTGARDE Experts leads the way with a good example of a positive error and feedback culture. The “Culture Amp” tool was introduced in the company, which now makes digital feedback and evaluations possible for all employees. Sophia Walter, HR Manager Personnel Development at AVANTGARDE Experts, answers questions about the tool below and explains the positive effects on the error and learning culture in your own company.

Our interview partner: Sophia Walter, HR Manager at AVANTGARDE Experts

Sophia Walter has a keen sense for people and their development. At AVANTGARDE Experts, as HR Manager, she is responsible for internal training and personnel development and is always ready to listen to the company's employees.

1. Why did you introduce “Culture Amp”?

By introducing “Culture Amp”, we are living the feedback culture anchored in our core values. This gives us transparent insights into the company and the individual departments and enables us to make better decisions and to prevent negative developments at an early stage. The tool helps us to develop a better understanding of our employees by digitizing feedback and evaluation processes. This enables us to continuously develop both the company and each individual employee.

Thanks to "Culture Amp", employees can make themselves heard across departments and hierarchies by sending confidential / anonymous feedback to the company as part of an employee survey or by giving direct feedback to their colleagues and superiors in the 360 ​​° C area - while adhering to the communication rules, of course . The feedback is addressed in a constructive, motivating and target-oriented manner, but can also be requested directly if there is no feedback, for example from a supervisor. Furthermore, we use the possibility in the tool to visualize the own goals of the employees and to digitally map appraisal interviews, such as an annual appraisal - strictly confidential between employee and manager, of course.

2. What effects can “Culture Amp” have on the error culture in the company?

We hope for two things through “Culture Amp”: The employee receives direct and documented 360-degree feedback. This is intended to set in motion a process of self-reflection. For example, if an employee receives negative feedback on his work diligence more often and from different colleagues, he will try to improve it himself. Employees often find it difficult to judge themselves: "What do I do particularly well, where are my strengths?" Here, the feedback from colleagues helps you to be aware of your own strengths. Likewise the learning fields. But since the employees sit in the “driver seat” for their own development, it is very important to know one's strengths and learning areas. In “Culture Amp”, employees can then set their own goals and visualize them.

In management, thanks to “Culture Amp”, we become aware of structural and leadership issues and can thus analyze faster and better whether we need to reassign resources or make process changes, for example.

3. How do you deal with mistakes at AVANTGARDE?

The work autonomy at AVANTGARDE Experts is generally very high and we have employed many young colleagues with little professional experience, where mistakes naturally occur. Employees are generally encouraged to take the initiative and seize opportunities. Entrepreneurship is one of our corporate values. Entrepreneurship also means taking risks when opportunities arise. Mistakes are a natural part of this. However, it is always important to consider what type of error it is and how serious it is. And: Was the error caused by your own negligence or is it structural? With the latter, we go into the analysis and check, for example, whether an employee had enough time to complete his or her task.

Let mistakes become an unbeatable asset for your company

To a real asset and competitive advantage Errors (not: misconduct) for the company and you as a manager only become when the organization transforms from a culture of error into a culture of learning. That means: The Framework conditions in the company make fear-free failure and learning possible. This includes, among other things, an appreciative feedback culture, a sober analysis of errors and a transparent handling of failures. Important: Be patient and try out - even if everything doesn't work right away.


Credit: Cover picture: © gettyimages / JGI / Tom Grill, picture 1: © gettyimages / Tom Werner, picture 2: © gettyimages / Luis Alvarez.

If you as a manager would like to learn how to give adequate feedback and contribute to a real learning culture in your company, then take ours Coaching on the subject of feedback culture for managers part. As part of the AVANTGARDE Experts Academy, we offer tailor-made training courses for you and your company, which are designed and carried out by exclusive coaches. Send us your individual request now and we will make you a suitable offer. We look forward to you!