What happens when somebody makes a mistake at your organization? I don’t mean forgetting to
turn off the lights when they leave the room, I mean a big mistake like accidentally putting the wrong information in a project for a new client or hiring someone it isn’t legal to hire or leaving client financial information out where anyone can get to it. How do you handle A BIG mistake? Is it all “Off with their heads?” or do you have a different response? In other words, can your employees trust that someone has their backs?
At one Dallas-based airline (um any ideas who it is?), it’s a well-known fact in the HR world, that there’s a heavy “heads will roll” culture. The result of which is that if a problem arises everybody’s first response is to scramble to make sure their backs are covered and be quick to rat out the guilty party. This, as you might guess, does not foster a really solid, trusting team. It’s more like: “If I’m going down, you’re going down with me, Mugsy! I’m not taking this rap alone!” Try to get such a team to work collaboratively on a project or focus their attention on meeting customer needs above following corporate policy and see where that gets you. Chances are you’ll wind up with a legalistic, hostile employee base where everyone’s top priority is keeping their jobs. And it shows, the customers can sense it.
Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, (always on the Best Places to Work list) has quite deliberately cultivated a culture in which, if there’s a problem, the first order of business is for everyone to jump in and solve the problem. Later, when the issue is resolved, they’ll go back and do a post mortem, figuring out what happened and what could be done to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. And it’s not always about pinning the guilt on a person. It may be tweaking the system so that similar errors are more easily avoided. Obviously teamwork is a lot easier to cultivate in an organization focused on solving problems rather than nailing perpetrators.
Everybody knows that when a big mistake happens, the stress level goes up but it doesn’t have to go up in response to who might use the mistake to vilify someone else. There’s an incredible bonding that can happen when a mistake threatens the organization and everyone pulls together to solve it. It doesn’t make people lazy or sloppy when you don’t “make an example” of the person who screwed up. In fact, if people don’t have to worry that a slip-up will lead to a public attack, they’re more likely to be focused on doing a good job rather than on making sure they’ve covered their asses. Now, obviously, this does not apply in all cases. There are definitely situations when a head or two does need to roll. But knowing that is the exception and not the rule does create a different climate.
And a company that has that kind of culture is probably going to have a lot more A players applying as well (as Southwest Airlines does). So, what do you do when there are mistakes? Have you ever stopped to observe how your organization responds to problems? Do you just react or do have a plan? If responding to crises isn’t something you’ve built in your culture, today’s a good day to think about doing that.
We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.