Roughnecks Learn to Learn from Mistakes

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by: John Caddell

"Unmasking Manly Men" in the July-August Harvard Business Review Forethought section had a grabby title and a thesis puncturing a resilient stereotype: one of the roughest, most macho, most dangerous industries in the world–offshore oil drilling–has developed a new work culture where workers support each other, where they are open and candid with their feelings, and…my favorite topic…where they admit mistakes and seek to learn from them.

The piece, written by professors Robin Ely of Harvard Business School and Debra Meyerson of Stanford University states that the culture change was led from above, primarily as a way to improve safety and reduce accidents. And that worked–on-the-job accidents declined 84% over a fifteen-year period. Efficiency and productivity improved as well.

This culture of candor had at least one beneficial side effect–the company developed a new assessment of leadership potential based on ability to listen and learn rather than excellence as a roughneck. [A lesson to the many many professions out there that still select new leaders based on skill in the old job vs. capability for the new one.]

I’m learning that developing a culture of destigmatizing mistakes, discussing them and learning from them makes the whole organization a lot more human, caring and fun. Oh, yeah, innovative, too.

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