The chapter that I impacted me most while writing The Can Do Workplace was Chapter 5: “Lessons Learned from Can’t Do”. The idea for the chapter came as I struggled with what I call the consultants’ dilemma: How Can I Give Them This Advice When I Have Made So Many Mistakes Myself? I decided to share several of my biggest lessons learned, reflecting on how I grown and changed as a result.
Using the 4 practices of a Can Do Workplace as the framework, I examined key decisions and leadership approaches made in organizations where I have had significant responsibility. I asked myself the question: “if I knew then what I know now, what would I do differently?” My focus was not on the little mistakes, but on the bigger system boo-boos that can (and sometimes have) led to EPIC FAIL situations – two of the organizations I discussed in my lessons learned chapter have closed their doors, and at least one of them was 100% preventable.
Transitioning from “misteaks” to “lessons learned” requires unpacking and reviewing our errors, mistakes and blunders in a way that increases the odds we won’t repeat them. It requires us to put aside both the blame game and the guilt traps. The process helps moves us away from blame, guilt and shame to look for the root causes – the common elements that keep us doing similar things over and over (and over!) again. Shifting to a “lessons learned” mindset opens up possibilities that allows us – finally – to get out of those the vicious cycles that keep us repeating mistakes in spite of our best attempts to stop! And to do so before we make a mistake that is costs us more than we care to pay = learning the hard way, as they say.
One of the strategies I recommend for making the big leap from mistake to lesson learned is to write – and then SHARE – one or more “memos to self” that define as concretely and specifically what you would do differently in a given “critical moment” situation.
This excerpt from Chapter 5 is my Memo to Self on one of my my “lessons learned” as a CEO about not engaging staff early enough and meaningfully enough in a major organizational transition:
In preparing for and throughout a change process, it is critical to communicate about the changes – over and over and over again. Use clear and simple language. Don’t just dole out information. For major transitions, planned information sessions and updates are recommended, with good follow through for questions raised. Maintain, and then keep, a calendar of scheduled communications, even if there is not much happening because silence when staff expects information creates anxiety…lots of unnecessary anxiety.
Engage employees by asking questions and establishing committees to facilitate the cross agency flow of communication. Get their input and buy-in. When specific changes are not optional, it helps to engage staff by asking not IF, but HOW, something new can be done. Establish boundaries on how information will be provided and clarify up front what is expected from everyone in the organization in terms of confidentiality and civility. It is helpful to keep the organization’s values visible and part of the conversation because they provide needed structure and security to help staff participate in healthy growth.
I strongly encourage sharing these “memos to self” because it helps to crystallize your “experience” into actionable items, increase your accountability and reinforce your commitment to use your lessons learned! If you work with a professional coach, it is a good idea to share these “memos to self” with your coach who can help hold you accountable. Or, you can include the actions you define in your performance goals for the next six months. What good is our “experience” if we don’t use it to improve?
Once you have written and shared these “personal personnel” policies and procedures, the next step is to find the highly personalized strategies to consistently access and use them to guide your future decision-making to prevent you from falling into the rhythm of the routine and the habits that lead back to the same old mistakes, in spite of your best intentions. Remember, the developing the memo, sharing the memo and creating a strategy are just the preparation for change. Your actions the next time you are in a similar situation is what will make the difference.
So, whatever your strategy, make sure it is one that works for you.
The impact of writing that chapter all those months ago remains with me. I have developed a new workshop entitled, I Won’t Do That Again! Using Case Studies to Unpack, Explore and Effectively Use Lessons Learned that I will be presenting this spring at several regional and national conferences. Based on that workshop, I will also be launching a self-guided “Using Lessons Learned” section on the Can Do Workplace website in April. Stay tuned.
I hope you share these four Can Do Basics Blogs with your colleagues and staff. And, I hope that you purchase a copy of The Can Do Workplace, which is filled with strategies and resources to make your organization become a Can Do Workplace – Where People Like to Work.