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Learning from mistakes - case studies
May 14 2018 08:49 PM

By S Zuhair Naqvi/Doha

What do companies do when an employee makes a mistake, sometimes with dire consequences? I’d say the response varies from a light reprimand to a warning, fine, or even a termination letter. Often, the stresses caused by the mistake lead to loud arguments, harsh words and finger-pointing, as different individuals scramble to cover their backs! Unfortunately, the one thing that often doesn’t happen is learning lessons from that mistake!
So let me share with you a fresh approach to dealing with mistakes. At DicoTech – the construction company that I run – when we make a mistake, we make a case-study about it. As soon as an error is discovered, the individual or team that was at fault sits down and writes a one to two-page case-study, outlining the following things:
*The nature of the problem or damage created due to the mistake
*The wrong action or decision that led to the problem i.e. the mistake itself
*How the issue was handled or resolved
*Lessons learnt from this experience
Once this is done, the case-study authors present the case-study in front of all their colleagues during one of the “Lunch & Learn” sessions that we hold every Thursday, and – most of the time – a healthy, interactive Q&A session ensues. Given that we ALL make mistakes, all staff members, including yours truly, have been up on the stage at least once, and hence, feel enough empathy for the poor culprits to be as supportive as possible. The case-study is then finalised and stored in the company’s case-study repository. All case-studies are categorised by function, project, importance, and by “type of mistake” such as “carelessness”, “lack of training”, “technical error” and many others.
Now, having developed a repository of over a thousand case studies – yes, we make a LOT of mistakes! – we now have a wealth of experience written down and categorised for all staff members to benefit from. We use these case studies to make best practices for the company, and also for employee development by including them in new hires’ training and orientation activities as well as refresher trainings for existing employees. Imagine how much an employee learns when he or she reads 200 different case studies in the first week of joining DicoTech.
In their book “Switch”, Chip & Dan Heath relate a now-famous incident of how the 1960’s IBM CEO, Tom Watson treated an executive who made a wrong decision, costing the company $10mn! However, in the review meeting, instead of firing or reprimanding the offender, Watson said: “Fire You? Of-course not. I just spent $10mn educating you”! In other words, mistakes are as valuable as they are expensive, and must be used, not wasted!

*S Zuhair Naqvi is the Managing Director of DicoTech Qatar WLL and a Partner at The Happiness Hub Qatar
Twitter: #zuhairnaqvi
LinkedIn: zuhair-naqvi-dicotechqatar

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