HR Needs To Be The Department of Errors and Corrections…

Paul Hebert Employee Relations, Employment Branding and Culture, Innovation, Paul Hebert, Performance, Science

To be successful HR needs to move from the department of enforcement to the department of corrections.  I’m cereal folks, super cereal.

HR needs to become the department that allows mistakes and then helps correct them rather than the department that creates rules and regulations to ensure no one makes mistakes in the first place.  I know some of you are saying that this would surely lead to chaos and the end of life on this planet as we know it.  But bear with me (or is it bare?) – mistakes are the best way your organization will succeed in the future and the best way to be sure your people get better and better and whoop on the competition.

Making mistakes is more valuable than experience in today’s organizations.

Ch…ch…ch… changes

Here’s an example:  the biggest change for most consumers in telephone technology from about 1910 to 1980 was the big change from pulse to touch tone dialing (at least from a consumer standpoint.)  The phone your great-grandparents used was pretty much the exact same phone you used growing up.  The tech behind it was pretty much the same from a user experience.  Then came digital and we could now push a button on our phone and create a tone that the computers could interpret as a number.  Before that the phone system counted the number of clicks (pulses) that the rotary phone made.  I remember as a kid we had a phone that had a switch that would convert the push button sound to a click so the old phone lines could interpret it.  When you pressed the button the phone wouldn’t go beep… it would go… click, click, click (if you dialed 3.)

That’s roughly 70 years without a major consumer change in the telephone market.

I’d suggest we’ve had more change in telephone technology in the last 5 years than the previous 100.

Is Experience Valuable?

That’s just an example, but in general, change used to be slower.  A person could go an entire business career without a major change in the way they did their job.  That meant that what you learned your first day on the job was pretty good for the next 40 years.

Experience mattered.  Experience was valuable.  Having the most experienced employees was a real benefit to the organization.  You could put in place rules and regs based on that experience and keep people from making mistakes and hurting themselves or the organization.

Not so any more.

Change is Constant and Learning Is Key

I’m not the first one to say it, but learning is more important than experience.  Experience in what “used” to be is only value if nothing changes.  If everything changes – then you have zero experience right?  The real key to organizational growth and success is learning and change.  And dealing with change is a function of how well you can manage and navigate uncertain waters.

Mistakes = Learning

Without mistakes, the brain has no way of knowing what the boundaries are for making future decisions.  In other words, if you’ve always been right, how can you make a good decision in a unique and different scenario?  You can’t.  Mistakes allow you to have an inventory of options to bounce around to help you narrow down choices and make better decisions in unfamiliar and unconventional situations.

If change is accelerating (and it is), then the best organizations will be those that have the largest inventory of mistakes to compare options against.

So the real value is “experience in making mistakes.”

Niels Bohr, the physicist, said that an expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.

Safety Is The New Regulation

Instead of policies and procedures to keep people from making mistakes, HR should think about how they can create safe zones for employees to experiment and teach managers how to create a mistake tolerant culture.

While HR may have been created to reduce the risk to a company from failing because of mistakes an employee made… it is now in their best interest to create a way for a company to succeed because employees make mistakes.

Or is that a mistake?