Undercover Manager Activities
Chapter 6: Training and Developing Employees
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Learning from Mistakes
Chapter 6 (Training and Developing Employees) introduces the idea of a “learning climate” – a climate that encourages employees to embrace learning wherever it happens (in the context of a formal training program or informally on the job). In a learning climate, employees are not afraid to take risks and learn from their mistakes.
Start this activity by recalling (in as much detail as possible) a specific example of a mistake made in your organization. It might be your own mistake or a mistake made by a subordinate or coworker. How did the organization respond to the mistake (With a punishment? With a celebration?) and what impact did that response have on the employee (Did the employee become more risk-averse or more proactive?).
Few organizations have given much thought to learning climates, so it’s not surprising if the mistake generated disapproval, embarrassment or awkwardness. Only a handful of organizations actively cultivate a learning climate through physical features (e.g., “failure walls” that encourage employees to publicly acknowledge their mistakes) or rituals (e.g., celebrations of the shared learning that resulted from an individual’s mistake). But what can you do, in your managerial role, to develop a learning climate in your organization? For example, activities like after action reviews (Box 6.1) can normalize discussing mistakes in the open, reframe mistakes as opportunities, and identify the conditions (time pressures or conflicting priorities) that lead to mistakes. You might like to return to this activity when you read Chapter 11 (Developing an Inclusive Workplace), because the psychological safety that employees experience in a learning climate can also support an inclusion climate.
Laker, B. (2023, January 5). Embracing mistakes to build a learning culture. MIT Sloan Management Review. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/embrace-mistakes-to-build-a-learning-culture/
Timms, M. (2022, February 9). Blame culture is toxic. Here’s how to stop it. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/02/blame-culture-is-toxic-heres-how-to-stop-it