In many working environments people’s focus is usually is on fixing problems. This makes sense, because continuous improvement allows organizations to survive and thrive. However, a focus on things that could be improved usually comes down to a focus on failures and mistakes, and this mindset can have some serious side effects. Being a perfectionist, I have sometimes been guilty of this myself. I have “raised the bar” for me and for others until the bar was so high that Godzilla could do a limbo dance underneath while carrying a space shuttle.
However, I noticed a strange thing when I urged people to stop screwing up. I found this didn’t motivate them at all! I realized getting better isn’t just about reducing what goes wrong (making mistakes). It’s also about increasing what is right (using good practices). And every now and then people need a reminder that they’re doing just fine.
It’s no wonder the culture in many organizations feels negative when the focus of discussions is mainly on mistakes and problems. Workers feel they are held accountable for not being perfect. Instead of having a constructive view on improvement, people end up with a defensive frame of mind. They evade taking responsibility, and for every perceived problem they point at others who must have caused it. Because people’s minds are focused on self-defense instead of improvement, things will not get any better, and the organization will just make more mistakes.
I believe we should emphasize the good recipes over the mistakes, because you get more of what you focus on. If you focus on mistakes, people will make more mistakes. If you focus on good practices, people will invent more good practices.
It seems evident to me that we should emphasize the good behaviors, not the bad ones. We should celebrate good practices, not punish mistakes.