How to improve performance by not punishing your employees' mistakes
Mistakes are costly for all companies but, for some, mistakes can be fatal. Such is the case for airlines, hospitals or nuclear plants. In this sectors where mistakes are of such critical importance, the non punishment of errors is a widespread practice. This doesn't mean that mistakes are simply ignored, of course: the goal is to put less stress on who is to blame for the mistake and focus on how to learn from it and improve the process so that it doesn't happen again. Of course, there is an exception: only intentional mistakes will be punished.
What happens when someone makes a mistake? Our first reaction tends to be to defend ourselves, whether it's by blaming others for the mistake, blaming the process in place, saying that we had warned about our mistake but someone else didn't listen and didn't do anything about it, or saying that it was just an exceptional mistake that won't happen again. These all are reactions caused by fear. But it can also lead to feelings of anger against others, of guilt and of shame.
These negative emotions are ultimately caused by the fear of the consequences of our mistake. And because we fear these consequences, we tend to not accept that we have committed the mistake. If this is the case, there is no way we can learn from our mistake. In addition, by not recognizing our mistake, these negative emotions are not treated, we keep them inside ourselves and this inevitably tenses up the working environment and can even lead to serious problems in the company. Employees who don't recognize their errors are also more prone to repeat them and, since no effective measures are taken to identify the mistake and find a solution to it, other employees will also be prone to committing it.
Air France has put in place 3 tools to support their non-punishment philosophy:
Analysis Of Flights
The analysis of flights is carried out by a system called Quick Access Recorder (QAR). QAR automatically triggers an alarm when a disparity between the normal conditions of a flight and the conditions of the flight that is being evaluated is detected. In such cases, the Captain is asked to answer anonymously to a set of questions so as to find out more about the circumstances surrounding this disparity.
It is important to highlight the importance of the anonymity of the captain - the goal is not to find out who is responsible for the mistake but to solve it. Moreover, if the case is of particular interest or importance, it can be published in Air France's Flight Safety Bulletin, keeping the captain's anonymity, so that others can learn from the mistake as well.
Feedback From Experiences
This device differs from the Analysis Of Flights in that it is not automatic: every employee has the possibility of reporting an error, and this especially applies to human errors, be it your own or someone else's. This is not done to encourage finger-pointing, but to point out the situations where there might some kind of flaw or error to be corrected.