Leading Through Mistakes | Lead Change Group

Leading Through Mistakes | Lead Change Group.

I love articles like this.  I love that they speak to what we all inherently know and feel and understand to be true and right in the world.  And I love that in this case it provides insights from those in places that do this well, as it gives hope that we can all achieve the same.

I also struggle with them, as not only someone who studies and practices in this field but also as a worker who experiences the alternative.  We read articles and research and the myriad other pieces of information that confirm our core beliefs in the way we should treat others and be treated, but often when that bubble bursts we are standing or sitting in an environment that is exactly the opposite.  So what do we do?

I am a firm believer in demonstrating what we want to see in others.  Admit when you make mistakes, and mean it.  It definitely isn’t always easy and it certainly can make you more vulnerable,  but if all of can continually present our mistakes to others and own them, others may feel more willing to do the same.  This helps remove the stigma and hopefully help to influence the culture around you, no matter whether you are have positional authority or not.

We can also attempt to provide feedback and suggestions to those around us on using the many methods of using mistakes for good, not evil.  We can suggest articles, books, papers, and more that have information and would be “some interesting reading” in a friendly and caring attempt to help others to see some new ways they could do things.  But we cannot always get through, and need to know when to back off.

It can be easy to be positive when we talk about what we should do, or what we know is true, but the reality is that many workplaces out there do not have cultures that support this mentality.  Even worse, there are many organizations that do, but some of the managers do not support the same.  In these cases, if you have exhausted every avenue, there may be no other choice but to leave the team, group, department, or even the company.  Being in an environment that burns you down for mistakes, or having a manager that refuses to admit their own while ensuring that any of your own are glaring, pointed, and clearly spotlighted will suck the very life from you and all work you do.  I firmly believe that change can happen, and that the things we know about the interactions between engagement and motivation, leadership, communication, and behaviors is true and important.  The catch is that we have to know when the environment and/or people are open to that change.

For leaders,  think for a moment on not what your perspective is, but what is the perspective of those that you are in charge of?  Do they feel like you are supportive?  Do they feel like they can make a mistake?  How do you help them?  How would you view or treat your employees differently if they were your friends instead of employees?

What do you think?  Have you been in a situation like this, as an employee and/or as a leader, and what was it?  How did you handle it?  What would your recommend to others?

Human Performance Systems Thinking: This is NOT just a Buzz Word!

For anyone that knows me, I am a nut about understanding the way that organizations and people work, especially as it relates to increasing and maintaining performance.  Unfortunately many organizations of all sizes fail to see the many systemic components of this and how they work together, or they only have a cursory awareness without the clear connections and methods of helping them work together.

Whether you are a Fortune 100 company, or just started a month ago there are certain areas that need clear focus from the onset.  It is really easy to let certain things fall to the wayside, especially when you are focusing on trying to get your business off the ground and become self-sufficient.  I would like to share a few things that I believe that all businesses, work groups, teams, and divisions should think about as systemic components of your Human Performance program.

  1. Leadership needs to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and ensure they get the development and guidance they need to support the business and their people.  This may seem a bit of a no-brainer,  but it is a critical component of your Human Performance system.  The leaders and senior leaders are the drivers and examples (or should be) and need to focus on developing and growing as much as or more than many others.  This serves the purpose of not only increasing capability and knowledge, but I believe also helps foster humbleness by reinforcing the fact that senior leaders do not know all the answers.  How many conversations and relationships would be, or are, different because of someone showing a bit of humility?
  2. Training is not always the answer…only for new skills or refreshes on old skills.  When someone is not performing, often the first go-to is to train them again, because the assumption is that they must not know how to do whatever it is.  Ask some questions first, such as: “Did they know how to do it before?” “What has changed for them personally and/or professionally?” “Are they engaged by the task/work/project/etc.?”  Answers to these questions can assist in directing toward either a training event or other solution, which leads to some of the other points.
  3. Determine what you can and should hire for, and what you really need to and want to train for when someone joins your team.  This changes the entire system drastically in many cases.  If I hire with expectations for certain knowledge, skills, and abilities then that reduces the amount and depth of training necessary to provide.  This also changes the potential of getting production faster and with potentially more varied perspectives.
  4. Re-evaluate roles and positions regularly to determine if what they were still fits for today and tomorrow.  Some of us get bored being stuck in the same thing all the time, and want the opportunity to grow and move in to other areas.  Re-evaluation of roles and responsibilities regularly, while including those currently in the role, can go a long way to engaging employees.  Additionally, it is important to ensuring your organization is best prepared not just for where you are, but where you want to go.
  5. Ensure performance management is built in to the day-to-day, nor reserved for mid-year and end-of-year.  It has been said a million times, but it deserves reiterating.  Performance management as a practice is one of the most hated things for most managers, but the reality is if the culture of the organization and team includes coaching people for success as they take on new jobs, tasks, responsibilities, etc. and then continues providing direction and feedback after, the process goes much more smoothly.  This changes the discussions and can increase engagement and feelings of trust and rapport with leaders.
  6. Create the culture that you would be excited to be a part of, lead it, and reinforce it.  Again, this is not new, but you are the one others look at.  The way you act, or the way you don’t influences others.  The way you communicate, or don’t, influences others.  The trust and transparency you have, or don’t, influences others.  Never lose sight of the impact you really have.
  7. Management and Leadership are a job, not an afterthought.  I really can’t stress this enough.  Managers need to lead, and the activities that a manager should be doing are very different than what individual contributors should be.  This should be evaluated regularly and people who are really stronger as individual contributors should be given the opportunity to do those types of jobs at no penalty.  Additionally, managers need to be able to put the overwhelming majority of their focus on building a strong and stable team, growing them, removing barriers, and getting things done.  If you are not doing these activities at least 85% of the time, you are NOT a manager.  You simply have a title.

Your Human Performance System is critical, and very real.  It is also very complex, and understanding and working with it can be difficult.  But that does not lessen the importance or necessity of working on it constantly. It is dynamic and needs constant focus, and many times adjustments and change.  Are you focusing in these areas?  How?  What else would you add to this list?  I’d love to hear your comments!

Agility in efficiency makes the difference!

One of the easiest things to lose sight of in the business world is where we want our business, group, or team to be or what goals we want to achieve.  This concept may seem quite obvious, but whether your perspective is as a supervisor or as a direct report you should be asking the question, “What are we measuring against?”  As a direct report, you should know what you are being measured against to know what you should be doing every day to achieve, and to help your colleagues and supervisor achieve, those goals.  As a supervisor or manager you should certainly be asking yourself, and your leader, what you should be measuring your people against and understand how those things impact the overall organizational goals.  Having this information impacts much more than awareness.  It essentially feeds every other performance impacting systemic component in the macro-system of the organization.

Some other important components (although by no means all inclusive) in human performance improvement are things such as communications and feedback loops, coaching, learning events, information and resources, physical systems (hardware/software, technology, etc.), environment, and work processes.  Keeping in mind the concept of asking what we are measuring against, every single other component of human performance improvement is impacted directly by that.  Think of it as reverse engineering.  As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there?  Once you know what you are being measured against, and what you are measuring your team against you can adjust other performance management and performance improvement components to help reach that end goal.

When we look at what makes the concept of human performance improvement effective, an important focus is on making the small changes and correcting the small mistakes or finding solutions to even the smallest challenges.  Think about this: Employees find that a software program is cumbersome and slows them down in completing a particular function.  It is decided that the team can simply find ways to work around it and make it work, and that funds and time should be allocated to a different focus.  As the new focus begins to grow, more time is needed from the employees that currently work on the myriad things that they were before.  The software that was once a slight annoyance is still costing time, albeit potentially somewhat less, as it was before and makes it even more difficult for the team to provide the support for the shiny new product that has come out and is positioned to make the organization more revenue and to gain more market value.  Now because of the launch of the new product, it is decided that there is a change that needs to be made to the software to meet the demand and the software change becomes a priority.  However, now the team has become ingrained in the way they have adjusted their workflow to using the inefficient software which will require a serious behavioral change to the new way.  The workflow will potentially need to be redesigned, the software will need to be redesigned, the group will need to learn the change to the new software, and all of this while learning a new product and adjusting to the new responsibility of supporting the new revenue generating product that needs to be on the market and supported (and in most cases, that product and support was expected yesterday!).

What challenges do you see here?  How much more complicated is the process later down the line?  This is truly death by a thousand cuts.  To be a truly agile organization there needs to be a focus and attention to the small things that can be improved and the small problems that can be fixed before they become big things.  Awareness of issues in the present and focus on improving them as close to immediately when found creates an environment that drives to the future.  Throughout this process, focus needs to be maintained on the initially defined measurements which will create quantifiable evidence that all of the improvements being made are helping to move the organization toward the overall goals.

Not your average action plan

With the many challenges that face organizations and their leaders today, ensuring that learning events, seminars, and conferences provide a true value to the employee and overall organization is even more important than ever before.  The reason this is so important is the need to create an environment built for change and innovation, partnered with the need to attract and keep talent and the associated intellectual property.  People need more than the every day grind, and need to understand that the organization they work with believes they are important enough to invest in.  All of this together makes this a game with very high stakes.  So the question is how to accomplish this intricate intertwining?

In the past, the expectation was that if you were going to some type of learning or communication event, whether internal or external, you would gain whatever knowledge and information you could and hope to find ways to apply it in some way in your daily work once you returned.  That model is simply not effective and with the need for every dollar and minute spent to account for some type of return on investment, we need to find a better way.

Enter the action plan.  For most of us, the action plan may seem familiar.  In reality, most of us use it completely incorrectly and even fewer understand what it really is.  First, let’s talk about what it is not.  An action plan is not a directive from a manager or supervisor of what to do.  It is not a task list, nor is it a checklist.  An action plan is also not simply the “next steps”.  It is much more complex than these things, while encompassing many of the same components.

The best way that I have heard an action plan described is not just as the plan, but also as a living process.  It cannot be a static dumping ground, but must instead be a dynamic process leading up to an initial static document.  To accomplish this managers and supervisors need to schedule time with an employee before an event, and during this time discuss the program or event content, define the expected or desired takeaways are, and identify the expectations of the supervisor or manager after the event.  For the person attending the event, there needs to be a structured way of attending the event to obtain a solid comprehension of the learning.  Participants do this either with a printed form or through simply taking notes, but there are certain components needing identification throughout the program.  These include, for each lesson learned:

  • What did I learn? (This could be per day, week, month, module, book, speaker, etc.)
  • How can this help me do my job better?
  • What action steps, if any, can I take?
  • Start Date
  • Evaluation Date (Should be agreed upon either before the event, or in the post-conversation)
  • What resources will I need?
  • What barriers might I encounter?  Who can help me with these?

By using this process, the participant should have a clear picture of knowledge gains and the best use of those gains after the event.  Further, having this information available will be of great use when debriefing with the leadership afterwards, which is the next piece of the process.

Within the week immediately after the event, the participant and their leadership need to have time scheduled to discuss the event and the answers to the questions posed above.  At this point, the action plan in the sense of what we know it today begins to form, which will offer specific goals and timelines for check in and accomplishment as well as helping the leadership to find what learners need from them in terms of support and resources.  By following this method, the leader and employee share commitment to the action plan as both developed and designed it and both have stakes in it.  For the leadership, this is also an excellent addition to performance plans as a part of the performance management process.


Cowan, C.A., Goldman, E.F., & Hook, M. (2010). Flexible and inexpensive: Improving learning transfer and program evaluation through participant action plans. Performance Improvement, 49(5), 18-25. doi: 10.1002/pfi.20147

A “Complex and Adaptive” System

In any business, human capital is the underlying current of activity and success.  There are many challenges as organizations grow and shrink, and make decisions on the best way to proceed into the unknown as they change and develop.  An article that giving an interesting perspective on this was published in the professional journal Performance Improvement in March of 2010, titled “An Enlightened Look at a System View.”  The authors, Rosenzweig and Lochridge, look at how organizations must reassess what they are doing today and empower employees to make proper decisions and take the business into the future through an entrepreneurial spirit.

In the current turbulent environment, organizations are forced to find new ways of doing things, engage employees, offer better service, perform faster and more agile, and use the human capital that they have in multiple and diverse ways and roles.  With these thoughts in mind, the old way of doing things needs revisiting and reevaluation for effectiveness.  The old ways of thinking need challenging.  Does what worked even five years ago still stand true today, or is an entire re-vamp necessary?  For many on the “front-lines” of organizations, this is a no-brainer question.  As the saying goes, “what got us here will not (necessarily) get us there”.  In other words, some things are reusable, but many components can definitely benefit from change and evolution.

One such area involves viewing the business as a system, and understanding it as being complex with many moving parts.  This means understanding that, as Rosenzweig and Lochridge (2010) put it, “we need to acknowledge that some problems have a tipping point where the ability [to affect change] with a small team to affect change on a system becomes impossible.  There are too many moving parts, and too many emerging issues.  In these instance, the system must be viewed as being not just complex but as a complex adaptive system.”

So, what does a “complex adaptive” system mean?  It means there is a constant input of new data and changes to the system needing the ability to make decisions quickly and dynamically.  Further, these decisions are not necessarily by the leaders and senior leaders, but are by the human capital directly involved.  Although there is a structure of “plans, processes, and strategies” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) agreed upon and slated as the guiding directives, the understanding is they are simply a guide on the path as changes constantly happen.  This agility and trust in the decision-making process creates engagement from those involved, and helps to create ownership of the business and decisions.  Everyone strives to do their best in contributing to the “larger purpose [of] what is needed to accomplish the tasks at hand, as well as the end goal.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge)

The organization has a mission, vision, values, strategy, etc.  The ability and desire of the individuals in support of those components is what makes them truly work.  One way that many organizations today are working in support of this is to work “less [toward] managing the people and more [toward] engaging them.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010)  This includes creating an environment where the individuals are more responsible for self, and find their own way to give 110% in support of the team, the organization, the business, and the customers every day.  It also includes running the business as a network, much in the way the Internet does, where everyone “[connects] to each other in an organic way.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) While this environment is often in small, entrepreneurial organizations, now a movement is gaining strength to keep this type of thinking and behavior alive and well within those organizations that have moved out of that category.  Instead of it being about a stage in an organizations life, it is a combination of mindset and actions, empowering and engaging each employee as an owner and creator of the business.

The face of business today is in many ways very different from how it was 50, 20, or even 5 years ago.  The expectations of customers are different and need a completely different approach in many cases.  Problems need more than a canned solution.  Working within regulations and standards is perhaps more strict now than in the last century, and our world is more technologically involved and complex in many ways than ever before, requiring a unique way of thinking and working.  Ensuring that the organization empowers and enables human capital in an organization  to meet the demands of today will differentiate any organization and place them in position to grow, change, and evolve to keep pace with what comes for tomorrow.


Rosenzweig, J., & Lochridge, S. (2010). An enlightened look at a system view. Performance Improvement, 49(3), 24-30. doi: 10.1002/pfi