Working in a non-blaming environment
I started working in 2001. Since then, I have worked in different areas and companies in Brazil, France, and the Netherlands. Although each country and each company has its own culture, values, and rules, there are things common to all work experiences. One of them is that mistakes happen. There is no way of preventing or avoiding all of them. However, some of the companies I have worked for had a ‘no mistake policy’. So, when they happened (of course, they did!), everyone’s reaction was to find the ‘culprit’ and lecture them to ensure it would never happen again. Therefore, mistakes were never seen as an opportunity to learn and improve.
For example, when I worked for a jewelry company in Brazil, I needed to separate a piece of jewelry for a client that would pick it up on a Sunday. I didn’t use to work on Sundays, so I didn’t know that a part of the store would be locked on Sunday, and the only person who was going to work there wouldn’t have access to this closed part. Guess where I’d put the piece of jewelry? The client was a tourist; the sale was lost. I did learn that a part of the store was locked on Sundays, but the most important takeaway was that I was guilty of preventing a sale. And I felt very ashamed.
One of the things that attracted me the most to work at Easy LMS was their attitude towards employees: we need to feel safe and seen to perform our best. Easy to say, hard to prove? When a mistake came up, I was presented with the perfect opportunity to experience how Easy LMS handles them.
One of the things that attracted me the most to work at Easy LMS was their attitude towards employees
The trigger: export improvements
We work in teams at Easy LMS to continually improve our platform. My team includes two Back-End Software Engineers and myself, an Implementation Consultant. From October to December 2022, my team was responsible for improving the Exam exports. It means that we were changing how data from Exam results would appear when clients needed them on an Excel file. The new export file would have more columns, offering more data, and the column order would be more logical. We thought our clients would love it, and we were enthusiastic about it. The new Exam export was released. Shortly after that, many of our clients started complaining about it. What went wrong?
The first thing that went wrong was that we didn’t communicate with clients about the changes before we implemented them! It seems so obvious now, but it didn’t cross our minds that this kind of change would be so impactful and that our clients would need some time to adapt to it. We just thought about the benefits we saw in it.
The second thing that went wrong was that we didn’t consider the actual way in which clients use those exports. “For clients, these improvements could feel like the opposite actually. By adding more columns to the exports, the columns' order changed, making it harder for clients to compare exports from before and after the improvements,” said Rael, another member of our team. In the end, we were so focused on the improvement itself and excited about it that we forgot to think about the client’s perspective.
Mistake detected! What now?
The first reaction we got from everyone: keep calm and let's learn from it
The new situation was many dissatisfied clients asked questions and gave a negative feedback about it. What should we do? The first reaction we got from everyone: keep calm and let’s learn from it! This was such a relief! We had the support and also the space to look at the problem, think about how we could fix it, and also how to prevent it from happening again. “We could work on it in a non-blaming environment, with no ‘breathing down your neck’ attitude,” commented Noud, also a team member.
We knew we had two main issues to solve. First, we wrote an email message to all our clients. Through this message, we explained the changes to the Exam exports so far and why we thought they were beneficial. Of course, we also apologized for not communicating about them before their release. Finally, we pointed out the following improvements we intended to implement regarding the exports. We got help from other colleagues to write and review the message.
Secondly, we couldn’t change the exports back to the way they were, but we did learn how our clients use them to compare old results to new ones. We even learned that they use some formulas after downloading our exports. When changes happen in the exports, they also have to change how they compare results. With this new perspective, we are now more aware of the impact these changes have. Our clients also gave us some new feature ideas for the exports. We are still making changes to exports, so we have considered this every time from then on.
Well-seized opportunity: ✅
This was a great opportunity to learn on different levels. In general, we learned that:
- As a team and individually that we can make mistakes. They are part of the journey, and blaming games will not help us solve or learn anything from them.
- We take feedback from clients seriously. Through them, we can identify issues faster and understand exactly why something is going wrong. We need their view to offer features that answer their needs and not what we think their needs are.
From the support perspective, I learned that all changes must be communicated before they are implemented. Also, if we explain the change benefits beforehand and give time for clients to understand and adapt to them, the process goes smoothly.
From the software engineers' perspective, they have learned to understand better how clients depend on the features before proposing improvements. Clients can see changes as actual improvements as long as they are previously aware of the benefits and the changes they have to make themselves to use them. Therefore, changes shouldn’t happen too often.
Working in a non-stressful environment, where you can assume you made a mistake without shame and guilt, is very liberating
Ready for the next mist… oops, learning opportunity!
I must confess that grasping a mistake as a learning opportunity at work is something that I have never actually experienced before. I still feel horrible when something goes wrong. However, working in a non-stressful environment, where you can assume you made a mistake without shame and guilt, is very liberating. I really think I can be myself working here. Sometimes, I still have the tendency to feel nervous or a bit guilty when something doesn’t go as planned. After so many years of having another experience, this can take time to go away. Anyway, I definitely enjoy a safe, calm work environment. And I feel confident to handle my next learning opportunity!