Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.
The other day I was at the supermarket and watching the cashier ring through our purchases when one popped up as 139 euros (about NZ$230).
Now we were buying small things – cheese, baguette, bottles of Bordeaux. Nothing that cost more than a few euros each. So I quickly said “Excusez-moi monsieur” and asked in French what cost 139 euros. He looked through the system and found it was a cheese he had entered wrong. He took it back and re-entered it for €1.39. He thought it was absolutely hilarious that he’d overcharged us so much and told the other cashier and all the other cashiers who also thought it was hilarious – and everyone had a great laugh about it!
This is a quite a different experience than I’m used to from living in NZ, California and the UK. I’ve found that the French, when they make a mistake – never apologise. They usually instead seem to find the mistake either hilarious or amazing – to be pointed out with much discussion and hand gesturing. There is no blame made, everyone has a great discussion and then the thing is usually fixed.
It made me think about how we deal with mistakes at work. Blame almost always comes in. Defensiveness. Apologies and feeling bad.
What if we dealt with mistakes like the French?
What if we approach mistakes with either hilarity or with amazement, discuss the mistake without any blame made (I cannot believe it! They almost paid €139 for the cheese! It is so funny!) but then fix it and move on.
It’s like the French understand we are all human and we will make mistakes. So let’s marvel at them or laugh at them, and then fix them.
We try at Elephant to be a blame-free company. We all stuff up, so when mistakes happen we check why they’ve happened (is there a process that’s wrong, or was it just human error), we do try to apologise and then fix it. But we haven’t taken it as far as the French, but maybe we should try it. Life is too short to focus on blame and accusation.
What do you think? How does your team deal with mistakes? Should you try and treat it like French cheese?
Angela Atkins is the co-founder of Elephant Group who now operate in NZ, Australia, the UK, Canada and the US. She is the author of the Bites series of books and the Management Bites training programme. She now lives in the south west of France, and eats a lot of cheese. It never costs more than a few euros!