Why Don’t We Talk About Getting It Wrong?

Our best learnings come from pretty big mistakes. So why don’t we talk about them?

We spend ample time, energy, and money figuring out how to do it right. Countless companies sell you “the next best thing” or “fail-proof” software and services. Yet often, our best learnings come from pretty big mistakes. So why don’t we talk about them?

As a marketing rep for a national company, I took over a small portion of agents while the company hired for our open position. It was fun meeting new agents, seeing new shops, and working with them at the end of the year as they worked towards their bonus goals.

One such agent was very concerned about hitting a specific number and wanted to be sure he would get the dollar amount the agency was hoping for if he hit it. I reviewed the numbers with him, reassured him of his current standing, and then put a plan in place.

He pushed further, “how can you be so sure about this plan?” I showed him the calculation, but I couldn’t convince him. So I told him a story.  

When I started with this company, it was around this time of year. I knew insurance, but learning a new company and a new bonus calculation can be tricky (mainly because they’re all pretty different). I got it wrong the first time I worked on the bonus calculation. I forgot a field and was off by just enough that the agent missed it. The company covered for me, the agent asked not to work with me again, and I spent the next few months honing my skills. I didn’t miss the second year.

I told him this story to illustrate that I know what making a mistake looks like and how to get it right, and I had enough time and experience on my side to usher him into his bonus goal.

Later that day, my boss called. The agent asked to move out of my territory. I was shocked. “What happened!?” I asked. My boss told me that the agent said that because I made a mistake and admitted it, he didn’t want to work with me and only wanted to work with people that got it right. They moved the agent.

Making mistakes are human nature, and we all do it. Admitting them, well, that’s a bit harder clearly. When “perfection” or “getting it right” is rewarded and making a mistake is punished, which would you rather disclose?

As we think about culture in our organizations, how do we respond to someone “missing the mark”? Is it met with sighs of disgust, or is it met with “thank you for telling me, let’s work on this together.”?

I’ve learned that perhaps “getting it right” is knowing that you’ve made mistakes (maybe even every mistake in the book), and then you keep going.

Subscribe to Culture is King

Other posts