Culture Check: Is it Safe to Make a Mistake?

When mistakes happen, what is the go-to behavior in your organization? Do you have people who will vehemently defend their actions, try to solve problems in a vacuum, attack others, or deflect/misdirect the attention? Do you have people who will attempt to hide or cover up mistakes? Do you have people who will reach out to their teams and leadership to get guidance, support, and help? Do they own their mistakes, acknowledge their part, and look for ways to improve?

If your organization is more aligned with the “own your mistakes and ask for help” vs. “blame and CYA”, you have a healthy organization. Your people should never be afraid to make a mistake. Mistakes are where we learn what doesn’t work. Mistakes are where we have the opportunity to look at a problem from another perspective and problem solve, brainstorm, and come up with a solution together. Healthy cultures take the ego out of their processes and are open to the possibility that there is a better and more effective way to do things.

Where does your HR/People Operations (whatever you call it) team fit in here?

Do you have a culture of service, support, and help, or are you punitive and focus far too much on the past and what can’t be changed vs. the future and how to move forward and make things better? Are you the policy police? Are you the principal’s office? Are people afraid when you show up unannounced? If so, make efforts, even small ones today, to change that. HR is not the principal’s office or the policy police. Your leadership teams are not judge, jury, and executioner. If you observe a leader being punitive with someone, have the courage to speak up and address it. Behavior not addressed is behavior condoned.

We want to have healthy cultures where our teams and leaders reach out for help when they need it. We want to be given the opportunity to address a situation and to get the support needed. We have to create safety to ask questions, make mistakes, and ask for help. We need to be the go-to for counsel, support, consultation, and guidance. If people aren’t reaching out for help, it’s indicative that they don’t truly believe that reaching out will have an impact.

Disengagement doesn’t happen overnight. Unsafe cultures aren’t built overnight. There is a consistent trend of unmet expectations, and eventually, people lose faith that their situation will improve. Just as this doesn’t deteriorate overnight, it also can’t be repaired overnight. Trust in you, your team, and the organization starts slow — commit to doing something and then do it. That builds trust. If people trust you for the small things, they’ll trust you for the big things, and we all need to be trusted and relied upon for the big things.

Where does your organization line up? Where do you? Are you proud of the culture you foster? If not, what are you doing today to make an impact and start the transformation?

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