Make mistakes? Yes please! This is how you benefit from an open error culture.

written on 10.12.2021

In our society, mistakes generally have a negative connotation. They are often synonymous with human failure, inaccuracy or short-sightedness. However, mistakes - if handled properly - can lead to better processes and more innovation.

If you want to reduce error rates in the long term and achieve better process quality, you need the following: an open error culture!

But what is an open error culture? Why is it so important for companies and how do companies start the change? Find out in this article!

Many industrial companies strive for error-free production. But mistakes happen to everyone, even if many are reluctant to admit it. Calculating the costs associated with errors and quality problems is not always easy. Rejects, rework, wasted capacity, wasted time, wasted energy and some more components can be easily identified. Others are very difficult to quantify, such as planning delays, supply chain acceleration or time spent identifying root causes. According to studies, error costs in manufacturing companies come to 1.4% of annual turnover. For an average German mechanical engineering company, this would be about 5000€ per month.

Therefore, it makes sense to fundamentally deal with the area of error management in order to establish an open error culture.

In companies without an open error culture, errors are often covered up and concealed. And this is where the real problem lies! Because the cause is not investigated and repeated errors occur. The fact that this type of error occurs again can be largely prevented with the right strategy.

What is meant by “error culture”?

In general, “error culture” is understood to mean the way errors and their consequences are dealt with. The error culture thus describes the way in which an organisation deals with errors and problems.

The error culture describes HOW an organisation deals with errors and problems.

In a poor error culture, errors are concealed, covered up or ‘blamed’.

EA positive error culture is reflected in an open and solution-oriented way of dealing with errors. Everyone involved reflects consciously and looks for causes and solutions.

Another positive effect of an open error culture is that employees dare to become more actively involved in shaping the company. This can trigger an enormous potential for innovation and success in the company.

The added value of a systematic, open error culture is obvious. It can reduce the cost of quality problems, increase employee engagement and satisfaction and, most importantly, focus more on meeting customer needs.

Error culture in the DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland)

Socially, mistakes have a very negative connotation in many places. But little by little, many companies are realising that striving for the highest quality and an open error culture do not contradict each other, but actually reinforce each other.

Currently, there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the error culture in companies. A German study (by SThree) shows that a majority of people, namely 86 percent, would like to see a different error culture. According to the study, employees would like to see more tolerance for mistakes and a more motivating way of dealing with failures.

How to start a change towards a positive error culture.

Open error culture starts at the top of the company. If you want to start a change in the error culture in the company, it is not enough to simply call on the employees to adopt an open corporate culture. The positive culture of error must be exemplified from the top of the company across all management levels.

One reason why many errors are only discovered when the manufacturing process is already far advanced is the lack of communication. Improving communication between people, processes and systems can reduce errors and increase product quality.

With advancing digitalisation, there are a multitude of possibilities to improve communication. With mobile solutions for error and defect management, upstream and downstream process steps can be made transparent and it can be determined at which point in the overall process a deviation occurred during quality inspections. With integrated task management, anomalies can be immediately assigned to the responsible employee. With regard to shift handovers, a central digitalisation platform can also support a seamless handover. It is important that traceability is guaranteed throughout in order to avoid unnecessary media disruptions or process delays.

Today’s networked world shows us how simple continuous data collection can be. With the documentation of quality-relevant data along the entire production process, a data-based overall picture of the production process can be drawn. Previously non-transparent “black boxes” thus become data machines, from which much more precise patterns can be identified.  

Error as a driver of innovation and progress.

Furthermore, according to the study, a majority of people would like to work in a more innovative company. The majority of people state that the most important reason for working in a more innovative company is to be creatively involved.

Errors and mistakes provide important information.

In the process, errors can provide important information. Dealing with errors in the right way enables companies to adapt to change in an agile, fast and innovative way.

See error culture as an innovation driver: Because by addressing and tackling errors openly and actively, enormous innovation potential is released. To address errors, idea management in companies can help to encourage employees to proactively solve problems and help shape products and processes.

Team discusses how a mistake in product manufacturing can be avoided in the future.

A prerequisite for the ongoing optimisation of your processes is the strong involvement of your employees. Every employee should be empowered to actively contribute to the improvement of process quality.  

The employees are familiar with the value-creating processes and thus have an enormous amount of knowledge and potential. Therefore, an environment must be created in which employees can deal openly with mistakes and express their ideas for process improvement without hesitation.

A side effect of an open error culture is usually an improvement in the working atmosphere:

  • More mutual appreciation and finding solutions together instead of blaming each other and focusing on problems.
  • More courage and joy in contributing one’s own ideas, trying out new things instead of fearfulness and a lack of trust.

By dealing with errors in an appreciative and constructive way, you encourage people in the company to uncover weaknesses in existing processes. And share their knowledge and ideas for solutions.

Companies should offer their workers opportunities and incentives to actively participate in the improvement of processes. This can start with setting up an idea collection box and go all the way to establishing a refined idea management system in the company.

Conclusion

The introduction of a positive and open error culture is the task of management. A working atmosphere must be created that enables the constructive handling of errors.

Digital tools can help optimise communication channels and bring more transparency to upstream and downstream manufacturing processes, find causes and prevent measures against quality problems. It also promotes teamwork and mutual learning from mistakes.

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