Rob's latest thoughts and wonderings.


Creating a Learning Environment

Making mistakes is awesome, Learning is even better!

Parents around the world understand how important it is for their children to learn through making mistakes.  We all did it learning to walk, understand calculus (I’m still struggling with this) or driving!  No matter what age we were, we made mistakes growing up.  Some of these were minor, some were significant or even embarrassing. The important message here is that we all had the opportunity to make a few mistakes so we can learn from them.

With this in mind, I am always confused as an adult how we train that mindset out of us.  All of a sudden we tell ourselves that making mistakes is bad.  All of a sudden we must be perfect all of the time.  Fear of mucking up overtakes our willingness to try something different or new to see what happens.

When it comes to a Lean culture, making mistakes is awesome.  More specifically it is about uncovering when errors, mistakes, outcomes beyond set standards so we can ………. Learn.

While on the surface it can all seem a bit counterintuitive - strive for perfection but celebrate mistakes.  It all is about creating a culture, an environment where everyone is supported to do the best job possible.  If anything strays off this goal, the focus goes on to understanding why.  Create a learning opportunity so the individual, team, business can better understand why a particular error occurred, learn from it and implement countermeasures so this either is eliminated for good or at least managed to minimise the issue.

The support can come in many forms.  This is the role of Lean Leadership to make sure this support is consistently available.  Training, upskilling, provision of correct or improved tools, facilitating improvement conversations, coaching through issues, enabling and empowering to try different approaches.  All of these are forms of support. At no point does it look like a shame and blame culture or a command and control approach to leadership. It is the total opposite to that.

Creating a culture where daily, weekly and monthly performance is discussed and planned.  Any variation to the planned performance is an opportunity to learn and understand.

I remember as a graduate therapist in a hospital I was required to fill in stats sheets.  At no point was it fully explained why this was important, what the overall purpose was.  I always made sure that my daily stats total always added up to 8 hours.  Years later I got a different perspective, it was there that the organisation could understand the exact time was spent with different types of patients.  This information was to better understand the resources required.  I then understood it was impossible to be 100% productive as there were many aspects that required non-patient contact work.

I was not coached that it was Ok not to add up my day perfectly but to see what is actually happening so we can better plan for future patients.  It was not a learning environment but an old school control which resulted in skewed outcomes.

How much better, as a team, we saw the final data. How much better we could work as a team if we made that data visual so we could understand demand trends or any changes in performance.  If therapists were orientated to the task as a learning process rather than a tracking task.  I am 100% convinced we could have understood how we could have provided more supportive services for the whole hospital.  Started learning conversations so we understood where additional support was required.

This was a small glitch in the system as there were many other learning opportunities.  We completed peer case reviews with open conversations and discussions.  We reviewed best practice through journal studies and reviews.  It was encouraged to visit other facilities to expand our knowledge.

This was great and I took advantage of any opportunity I got.  But looking back there was a big piece of the puzzle missing.  We never understood or used data to help this learning.  With the insights, experience and knowledge I have now, I can only imagine what would have changed.

The clinical learning and development might not have altered.  Apart from one important aspect.  Based on knowledge and the visibility of our performance, we would have combined clinical judgement with data to make more accurate decisions of what training, development, changes to treatment protocols were required to make the biggest impact to the teams performance.

Stories with data, data with stories.  This supports the technical knowledge and decision making based on a mix of gut feel, experience and training.  Support this with ongoing statistical data and factual information that measured our success and you have a convincing powerful process.  This would have helped strengthen the learning environment back when I was a young therapist. But we didn’t have access to that level of information, it certainly wasn’t displayed transparently or discussed on a regular basis. All the decision making was left up to professional judgement alone.

Information helps us ‘see’ more clearly where things are not going right.  It allows individuals and teams to ask more accurate, inquisitive questions.  It allows us to learn.

Leadership is critical in this whole process.  First you need to encourage learning from mistakes, moving away from the blame game and respecting the people around you. Empowering teams to openly and respectfully debate and question all aspects of the business.  Secondally, leadership needs to provide the tools and information to enhance this process.  Make sure there are team boards, stand up meetings that are compulsory, access to information and performance data - key performance metrics.

Most importantly, leadership needs to consistently orientate everyone to the purpose and objective of all the components of a learning system.  If team members have 100% clarity on the purpose and objective, they can participate knowing what the expectations are and what their role is within that whole process. It would create a whole team of problem solvers, not just left to the leadership.

For me learning is part of a team culture.  It is more than just gaining knowledge, but understanding team performance and knowing how to improve or adjust accordingly.  It is about creating an environment where everyone can identify blips in performance and collaborate together to address any issues.

I appreciate that it might be a case of nirvana, but wouldn’t it be awesome to create that type of business.


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