Towards a Bona Fide Right to Err—From Theory to Practice
The government unveiled today, Monday, November 27, its bill on the right to err, signaling the will to start changing the philosophy on managerial relationships. Excellent! I am pleased.
To think that just last week, my partner Guillaume Buffet and I had a meeting at a bank with management. I took notice of the in-house practice that asked every associate to share on a monthly basis with management a list of dysfunctions and suggested improvements(a “bottom-up” approach sure to tickle our president’s fancy)—an initiative that considers everyone’s capacity to think and bring their piece of the puzzle to the table. After all, managers don’t have all the answers. That, too, made me happy.
In light of what we saw, we addressed the right to err. Guillaume and I have little trouble talking about our mistakes. But we hit a wall. Our interlocutors admitted that it was impossible to talk about mistakes in their organization—to consider them a lesson; an experience from which to learn. This came as no surprise. During earlier conferences in other activity sectors, audience members thanked me for addressing the issue of the right to err. It was a taboo subject.
Why? What goes on in our mind and our bosses’ mind that makes it so difficult to recognize our mistakes and learn from them?
Is it a question of pride and immature ego? The fear of being judged and (mis)evaluated? Worry about what others think?
Beyond the psychological and personal reasons, I think France is more a nation of “knowledge” than “culture.” This is what I wrote with Patrick Blanchet in our book more than ten years ago: “We focus a lot on theoretical knowledge and very little on knowledge of self. Culture for me is the ability to put one’s knowledge into practice at the appropriate time. We are a nation of knowledge, but also often totally ignorant, because we don’t give the opportunity to those with knowledge to use it. The British and Americans have it right in this respect. They recognize the value of our theoretical knowledge and they offer our willing students the opportunity to put their cultural knowledge to work there.”
Ten years later, I still think this passage on theoretical knowledge is vital if the right to err is to become reality.
My marketing professor in the US once told me, “If one day you give conferences, mention your mistakes first and foremost. We learn more this way.” I hope this type of advice becomes commonplace.