A couple of weeks ago, I raised the question about giving rewards for making mistakes. Some people thought I had gone mad. Too much exposure perhaps, to the dog days of summer.

And – remember the invitation I issued at the beginning of the month? The invitation to share your mistakes with us?

Didn’t get much response from that at all.

Honestly – I’m not surprised. I mean – why would anyone do that? Especially when they have no clue who is going to be reading it. It could be very bad for business.

Even in a controlled environment. Even with secret handshakes to keep it “within these walls”. It could be very bad for business. And your career.

But if a team doesn’t talk about mistakes…how will they ever fix them?

Okay – one at a time they can fix them. Or at least patch over them. Slowly. Painfully. In a silo with fingers pointing out at all the other silos. Rarely getting to the root of the problem. With limited learning. Certainly not getting “full” benefit.

And just think – through it all – the customer gets to stew in waiting.

In order to break the cycle, people must feel safe to talk about mistakes.

Years ago, Janet came in very reluctantly, very nervously, and told me about a mistake she had made. I asked what she had learned from it and what she would do to keep it from happening again. Her answers were perfect and I told her so.

Then I said, “You seemed nervous about telling me this.”

She nodded.

Hmm…

I was surprised and disappointed. If she was nervous, a person with whom I had a long history…how must others feel?

I had read a little snippet earlier in the week about a manager who felt like people were holding back on sharing mistakes. Trying to change this, she plopped a $5 bill on the conference room table during a staff meeting and said she would give it to anyone who shared a mistake and what had done about it.

I didn’t have a $5 bill with me. But I had some change and there was a vending machine down the hall, so I went in search of a prize that might help me initiate this culture shift right away.

At the staff meeting that afternoon, I made an offer: “I’ll give a prize to anyone who tells us about a mistake they made – and what they did about it.”

The room was silent.

For a long time.

I could tell their wheels were turning and could imagine each one doing a mental mistake inventory while having a debate with the little guy or gal on each of their shoulders who kept winning by saying “Are you Sirius? Don’t you dare tell that story! It’ll just open up a can of worms.”

I was determined to stay quiet until someone volunteered.

Finally and fortunately, someone spoke up.

It was Janet. She told the group about a mistake she had made. It was the same one she had told me about earlier that day. I stopped her. Before she told everyone her solution, I wanted each person to have a chance to think through the situation and a recommended solution. After I giving them a few minutes to do this, I asked Janet to share her solution; then asked each person to share what he/she had written.

All of this led to a good discussion about the pros and cons of each suggestion and ended with a blended solution that was even better than Janet’s answer which I had labeled as “perfect” earlier in the day. And it led to buy-in on a tweak that was needed in one of our systems.

It was time to award the prize. Janet had earned…..drum roll… a Snickers Bar!

Everyone snickered. But everyone got the serious message that while making mistakes isn’t good, we would still make them. AND that talking about them was good for everyone. Because then everyone could help prevent future recurrence. But just in case it did happen again - everyone would know how to handle it.

While it’s hard to measure the dollar value of the boosts we got from all of this – boosts in knowledge, confidence, future response time and overall morale and productivity – I’ll feel safe in saying that we got “full” benefit from Janet’s mistake. And greater than 100% return on the investment in a Snickers Bar.

It was so productive, in such a fun way, that I bought a bag of miniature Snickers to have on hand for future staff meetings and made Mistake Management a regular agenda item.

So back to the question in the title: Reward Mistakes. Are You Sirius?

No I’m not Sirius. But – yes I am serious.

But it doesn’t have to be a serious reward.

Even a little Snicker will do.

P.S. No - "Sirius" is not a typo. Sirius (Latin for the “Dog Star”), was supposedly responsible for the excessive heat and resulting madness which became known as the dog days of summer.

Author's Bio: 

Jan has thirty years of sales and management experience and loves sharing it (plus her love for solving problems and for making work fun) with others so that they can get through tough situations, make big goals and celebrate these achievements.

She is now President of Business Class Inc which provides resources to managers and business owners such as one-on-one coaching, master mind groups and management team retreats. Plus FREE resources such as a Blog, E-Zine and Quote Libary, which includes over 100 motivational quotes ready to download, print, post and share to help teach, learn, remind and reinforce important keys for business success.