How Google helps employees learn from their mistakes


How Google helps employees learn from their mistakes

Making mistakes is a vital part of learning. Unfortunately for many, the fear of failure means that they are unwilling to take necessary risks and end up fearing being negatively judged. However, it is not just the mistakes that lead to better learning - it’s the debrief after them that counts.

Would you like to know what this looks like in practice? Let’s have a look at the strategy used by one of the world’s biggest and most innovative companies, Google, to see how their company philosophy ensures they maximise learning opportunities for employees.

How to Learn from Mistakes like a google employee

Recently, Google documented the internal process it uses to learn from any mistakes made. This strategy is referred to as the post-mortem. Google uses a three-step process that requires creating a criterion, exploring the incident and creating a safe learning environment. Here's what it looks like in practice:

  1. Create a criterion

If every small incident or failure were to be analysed, this would become very time consuming and productivity would be greatly decreased. Therefore, Google have created a specific criterion that employees use to decide whether a problem is large enough to be addressed or not and if it is a good opportunity for learning.

These criteria are quite technical and specific to Google but can be tweaked to fit any other context. They include:

  • Data loss of any kind
  • If an engineer intervention is needed
  • If the problem persists for over a certain amount of time
  1. Explore the Incident

Now that the incident has been identified as needing to be addressed based on the above criteria, Google employees are invited to a meeting in which they analyse the issue.

Here, they discuss why the incident occurred, the impact it has had and how they can resolve similar issues or stop them from arising in the future.

A very important aspect of this stage is asking good questions. For example, Google recommends employees answer questions such as “what went well?” and “what can we do differently next time?”.

  1. Create a Safe Environment

Google has looked to create a safe work environment where all employees feel comfortable. This means that they are therefore prepared to experiment with new strategies and take calculated risks, as they know they will not be punished or belittled.

Employees at Google are actively discouraged from playing the “blame game”, such that mistakes are not immediately attributed to specific individuals but instead are seen as a good opportunity for learning.

The best strategies to learn from your mistakes

We have shared many resources over the years that can help you overcome fear of failure, become better at learning from your mistakes and develop a growth mindset. Here are some of the most important ones:

Final thought

Encouraging learning from mistakes and offering an efficient template to do it offers the best antidote to a fear of failure culture.

By avoiding over-analysing small errors, evaluating them for future improvement and creating a safe environment to do so, Google has become excellent at learning from mistakes. Learning does not happen in isolation or in a vacuum – the wider context and culture of one’s environment plays a role.

Creating a safe learning environment where challenges and reflection are encouraged is perhaps the most important thing that leaders can do to help accelerate this process. If you want to implement this process in your workplace, find out how to use a simple 8-step model to inspire change within your team...

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