Apr 30/19

Lessons Learned: Using Past Problems for Future Excellence

Picture that classic film, Groundhog Day.

Now imagine it’s your life, and every single day you go to work to make the same mistakes. Every day you relive the same miserable consequences from the same ill-thought decisions.

To us, it sounds like hell on earth. Like living on a cruel corporate mouse-wheel.

Sadly, this is exactly how many companies spend their days – making the same mistakes over and over, never using them as a tool for growth. To properly acknowledge past mistakes and avoid repeating them, you need a lessons learned process.

To find out exactly what that is, and how to incorporate it into your business, read on.

What Is It?

We can often learn more from failure than from success, but we’ll learn more from both if we’re conscious about the learning process. Get your team to take note after either a success or an innovation advance, or a failure, what contributed to the result.

Be as specific as possible about what worked and what didn’t.

If HR hired someone for the factory floor before finding out they couldn’t lift more than 5kgs, chalk it up as a lesson learned with a plan to avoid it in the future. In this example, they’d note a new policy of telling all applicants the role requires lifting weights up to 18kgs and asking them if they will be able to meet the physical requirement.

If it’s a mistake on the factory floor, like an engine failure, ask the workers involved what’s been learned. What needs to happen differently to avoid the same result next time?

How Does It Work?

You work to create a culture that celebrates failure as an opportunity to learn. You do that by not getting angry about the mistake, and quickly shifting from disaster response to, “what can we learn from this?”

This idea frightens some managers because they think it’s going to create a culture where people aren’t afraid of failing, and so don’t really try. But workers aren’t motivated by fear, so scaring them into not making mistakes actually doesn’t work long-term.

Aside from that, a learning culture that accepts mistakes as part of the process is going to be a hotbed of innovation. It’s precisely this sort of an approach that’ll get you out-maneuvering the competition.

As with any change management process, turning your company into a ‘lessons learned’ culture will need some change agents. Get a few influential staff from all areas of the company into a meeting, and get them excited about this new approach. They’ll help you sell the idea to their colleagues and give it a much better chance of sticking.

You can have a weekly or monthly ‘lessons learned’ bulletin that is displayed in public places around the workplace and sent out as an email blast too. You’ll need to task particular employees with the responsibility of periodically reviewing past ‘lessons learned’ bulletins and making sure the changes really have been put in place.

What You’ve Got to Gain from Lessons Learned

A lessons learned process gives some clear benefits to business and industry. That’s true regardless of their product area or specialty. Let’s check out the key benefits you stand to gain.

Faster Decisions

Armed with evidence of what’s gone wrong in the past and why, your team can make decisions faster since they now know what to avoid. This creates the opportunity to make more informed decisions.

End Groundhog Day Mistakes

You’ll avoid making the same mistakes over and over. If you’ve seen a high staff turnover, this could help you fix it. We know that smart employees don’t want to be stuck in a company where they can’t grow.

By showing that you want to learn and grow from failures (and success), you send the right message to your best talent.

Create a Can-Do Culture

A transparent lessons-learned process can actually transform company culture. Instead of workers shirking responsibility and looking to their managers for improvements and to take the fall. Everyone is expected to call out errors and contribute to improvements.

That’s a powerful difference in company culture, and it’s just the sort of empowered self-managing environment millennials want to be in. That positions you well for recruiting the best talent.

You’re Included

If you’re the business owner or a senior manager, your involvement in the lessons learned process is critical. And we’re not talking about you just listening to the mistakes of your employees.

Your important role is to role model the lessons learned process, by publicly acknowledging your own failures and how you’ve learned from them.

By doing that, you give your staff permission to do the same. You’re blasting the message, ‘we learn and grow from our mistakes here’.

Lesson Learnt – Time to Get Cracking!

Stop reliving the same costly mistakes. Ignoring the factors that contribute to both success and failure can cause a company to lose it’s most promising talent, and to bleed money. Call a meeting with your managers, and work out a roll-out plan for your new lessons learned process.

If you found this article helpful and want more advice for automotive OEMs, check out our website today!