Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

leonardo-zangrando's picture

The Prize for Learning from Failure.

Building on the need to develop an ability to learn from failures, why not offer a prize to those who were able to articulate a corporate learning after a failure? A "Yearly / Quarterly Prize for Learning from Failure."

It coudl work like this: you were in a project that failed, so you won't be praised... but you can try to understand what is that failed, or why was it so, and extract from this a learning that is applicable to the entire company. If you do so you participate in the annual / quarterly prize for learning from failures, which gives prizes to all participants (;D) and shares the most important learnings to all the organization.


HR process being hacked:Learning and Development

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andy-lippok's picture

As in my comment on Experimentation - experimentation is all about failure, i.e. only from failures do we know what doesn't work. No experimentation, no progress.
In my view HR and people practitioners should start to become the change it and they want the organisation to be, and I reckon the key area would be around the systems thinking as espoused and demonstrated both academically and eminently practically by Deming, John Seddon in Vanguard, Senge, Ackoff, Scholtes, and countless others.

All change beings at the thinking level and not the doing level, yet the result of the change in thinking then delivers change at the doing level. Great intentions, motivation and competencies underpinned by the wrong thinking changes little.

Managers need to recognise the organisation as a system, it’s their job to remove the obstacles within the organisation. They also need to understand human motivation (Dan Pink, Alfie Kohn, etc.). Design of the work from the outside in, and focus on what is the real purpose what matters to the customer. Then, analyse the demand, design measures for what matters, then when you understand the systems thinking that determines the current way of doing things, you simply get the people who do the work to re-design the work in order to achieve purpose and what really matters, and what happens is almost magical! Service improves, costs reduce, morale increases, and the culture change happens for free. At no time do we do anything to the people, we simply get the people to work on the work. That's the systems thinking at the practical and yet quite profound level that I believe HR could help to make organisations more adaptable and adept.
If you want to work more on the Systems Thinking hack, please join the team on page 2!

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Hello Claire, thanks for joining the team! And hello team, here's a few ANNOUNCEMENTS.

For the moment we are posting here, and I asked the team to post a brief 1 or 2 sentences description of what they are bringing to the table. It doesn't have to be specific to HR or learning or failure, it's just to share who we are and perhaps make an easier start for the collaboration! After this we will decide if we want to have our discussion here or on some private channel.

I would like to set up a repository of material relevant to the hack, and I would do it on Dropbox. Do all members have a Dropbox account? Who doesn't have it just let me know and I will invite you, it's 2Gb free space on the cloud. You can contact me on leonardo [at] zangrando [dot] com.

I wouldn't suggest to post your emails here, they can be easily copied by spam-bots and possibly start receiving spam, so the best thing is to email me personally at the email above (I am protected against spam ;) and then I will put all the team in touch via email. Sounds good?

I would also like to have an initial conf-call to get to know each other. We would do it on google+ hangouts. Please let me know if you have problems with that and we'll sort it out.

Also regarding conf-calls, it would be good to know our time-zones so that we can have the calls at a convenient time. My time-zone is GMT+2 and I am available normally between 8am and 8pm my time. What about all of you?

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Hello Deb, glad to see you here!

Note for all the team, you don't see me in the list on the right anymore because I "joined" by mistake, whereas I'm in by default!

Looking forward to working on this hack together, maybe we can start posting what each of us can contribute in terms of past experience. Something short, like 1 or 2 sentences max. Let me start :)

I have been in consulting first and then in L&D since 2008 and I developed a hands-on training methodology for startups called LearningStartup, based on constructivist learning theories. The idea is that the startup process is a learning process where you make explicit experiments to learn about your assumptions. Often your assumptions are wrong and the experiment fails, and this is a great learning opportunity.


amanda-boonzaaier's picture

Good morning, fellow "hack team members". It is a fair winter-morning in Cape Town, South Africa, where I am based.

If I mention exactly how many years' experience I have, I will be giving away too much of my age (lol)...so let's suffice to say I have "sound" experience in HR - with a special passion for Learning and Development, Change Management as well as Organizational Development. My current role as Talent Manager requires that I am involved with strategy, tactical planning as well as roll-out of our learning and development initiatives, company culture programme as well as change management initiatives.

I am more inclined towards practical application of concepts than theorising about them - however, am always keen to explore new models and ways of thinking. This virtual hack team will be a 1st for me - as well as the e-tools Leonardo suggests we use! Looks like I will definitely learn a lot here! Looking forward to this journey. Wishing you all a super Friday, 5 July!

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Hey Edna, Alberto, Amanda,
great having you on board.
I look forward to building a great hack together.
Amanda, your first-hand experience is going to be invaluable!

amanda-boonzaaier's picture

Fascinating discussion. In our organization - celebrating failure/ mistakes is an important part of our culture. We value this attribute because without failure we cannot get the continuous improvement we so require to ensure we keep on growing and learning. However, although it is formally part of our culture (e.g. openly discussed and part of our culture training initiatives), it is a challenge to live out. The reality is that human nature is not naturally comfortable with admitting mistakes and we have a regular battle with "blaming others/ finding the culprit" mentality. However - I think we are moving in the right direction by formally making "celebrating mistakes" part of our culture. Life is a journey of learning and growing, isn't it? :)

alberto-blanco's picture

Hi Leo,

I would love to collaborate in this hack :)

fiona-savage's picture

Leonardo you may like a group i am involved in called the The Unreasonable Learners
www.unreasonable-learners.com/‎ Lifting the human spirit by exploring new ways of working together within organisations.

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Fiona, thanks for pointing me to that group, I already subscribed, it looks extremely interesting and much attuned with my objectives and ethos. Thank you.

fiona-savage's picture

The reason I asked what type of reward system you had in mind, was because there is an enormous amount of data to show how targets/bonuses rewired drive the wrong behavior. We have seen this in the banks, I live in Edinburgh so acutely aware of the effects of rewired.

Below is a 7 minute talk from Mike Bell from the Unreasonable Learners : Do Targets Drive the Correct Behaviors?


You mentioned failure - you may or may not have come across- failure demand which is a systems thinking concept used in service organisations a 'demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer first time'. Compared to 'value demand', which is what the service exists to provide.

Failure demand represents a common type of waste found in public and private service organisations and is estimated to be as high as 60%. Research showed in Scotland public sector failure demand is around 40! Something I have been involved in talking to government about. Scary….

Your comment about my thinking on a different strategy level, comes from my mulling over, how Hacking HR are going to connect all these min hacks? Simply by using the voting process will not take into account that the “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It’s the interaction between that parts that is as important.

Has anyone any thoughts?

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Hi Fiona, starting from the last, I think that MIX is doing a great job of having us participants talk and discuss over the hacks we suggested. As you say, interaction is the important thing.
In this phase we (as an extension to MIX-CIPD) decided we would suggest mini-hacks, in phase 3 we will develop somewhat more articulated management hacks. I must say that my Learning from Failure hack is not so mini- and probably should belong more to phase 3. ;)
Regarding failure demand, that's an interesting case in which we should ask ourselves, what is that we are doing wrong which increases so much the number of failure demand? Thus really learning from failure. The prize could go to the call center rep who realises s/he is deferring too many calls just for the sake of attaining the call-per-day goal. Nowadays it's pretty well understood, but what if before it became clear thanks to the Vanguard Method, a rep would have been empowered to make that observation to his/her manager? That's what I am proposing.
Finally, I absolutely agree with you that wrong targets drive wrong behaviors. What if the workforce had a target of discovering and learning from at least 1 failure per month? :)

fiona-savage's picture

I also think that MIX-CIPD is doing a great job with this initiative, and I love participating. I was chatting to CIPD this morning about how min hacks would proceed and if I understand correctly it’s a liner and reductions process that will scale up...... However, may of the hacks are emerging into systemic thinking. It interesting to see the different way each of us respond to the structure of the process. I personal don't think emergence can be boxed, it’s the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a array of relatively simple interactions.

On the topic of the prize for learning from failure, or I prefer the term “Positive Risk Taking.” Tatra Group do exactly this, do you know how the Tatra Group reward employees? Their reward system may not be applicable in a different company culture. Tatra's purpose, core values and ethics are based on Hindu concepts. They also take a whole person approach which is includes of family generations.I think its a fantastic company and we can learn from them. I have lived in India and I have a little insight in to the culture and its so completely different. How to transfer a great concept into a different culture is challenging. And the law of unintentional consequence may kick in.....

fiona-savage's picture

I would agree with you re the examples, however I think the solution ultimately needs to look at the whole system not a part. A learning organisation is key to an adaptable system, however it is just a part. An organisation is a complex adaptive system, many of the hacks focus on different part of the system, but the solution needs to focus on whole system not the parts . Units or parts do not have a reason for existence that are independent of the larger system it serves.

frederic-jleconte's picture

You get a point.
I support this eco-system dynamic, with easy generation of entropy that requires a lot of energy to keep under consistency.
Some holistic design or action mode as I promote especially for HR or organization moves.
For the sake of the "Think Opposite" exercise I cherish and commented to Leornado, I like to add that sometimes the hack phase is the efficient way to open a crack in a very stable or reliable system (like long time performing or established orgs) to be able to move some lines for adapation.
It takes less energy to get a first side move, with the wish that when coming back to the holistic standpoint the inertia of the big system will get into the game but in the slightly different axis.It is the principle of pilots boats pulling or pushing big ships in narrow channels.

fiona-savage's picture

This 2 minuet video gives a quick understanding of biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy systems thinking. In school we are only taught reductions thinking. No wonder our organisations are structured in they way they are. The world and an organisation are a combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole. There is a great example in the cartoon video
What is Systems Thinking?

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Hi Fiona,
I don't find the video link, could you re-post it please?

fiona-savage's picture

Ops! senility strikes again i for got to add the link my apologizes.

What is Systems Thinking?

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Hi Fiona, sure, these are just mini-hacks that need to be combined under a greater scheme of renewed corporate culture.

fiona-savage's picture

When you talk about reward what do you mean? if a company has a great purpose people are motivated.

I love The B teams vision for companies in the future "Working to create a future where the purpose of business is to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit"

Tata group comprises over 100 operating companies in seven business sectors 2/3 owned by charities

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Sorry Fiona I don't get your question, I think you are at a much more strategic level than I am with my hack :)
I was making up possible reasons for the failure that should have been explored in the example you made, just for the sake of the example. A wrong reward system could be one of these. Imagine a reward system where a top manager gets a bonus only if s/he does exactly what planned regardless of contrary evidence discovered work in progress. Clearly this is a poor reward system that drives unhealthy behaviors. But of course it's just an example of something that is wrong and could provoke catastrophic failures.
What I advocate here is that the company should be able to be adaptive in defining its rules, and a tool for discovering potentially damaging rules is to analyse failures (which DO happen) and try to learn the most out of them.

fiona-savage's picture

Leonardo,I think this is really interesting question on several leavers. We often need to unlearn before we can truly learn identify our automatic thoughts and assumptions, that stop us from take on new ideas. In addition we frequently do not experiment or decision for fear of failure. In-which can be much worse!

Indecision and lack of experimentation is how managers protect their jobs, but can only do so in the short run. This is because only the mistakes that are recorded are from decisions -- not the errors from not making a decision. In other words, if you don’t make a decision, you can’t be blamed.

-Kodak bought Sterling Drug which didn’t work out as it was a misfit from the beginning. Their books reflected the loss.

-However, Kodak did not buy Xerox when it had the chance, which was an even bigger mistake. It would have propelled them into digital. But, this was never recorded in the financial statements

How do you measure this loss --- or more importantly plan ahead for these kinds of opportunities?

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Fiona, that's an interesting question. What's the value of missed opportunities? I think that the more detailed we become in describing what could have happened and did not, the higher value we can recognize in the missed opportunity. But I think this is the wrong direction.
The right direction for me is to be able to think of one's errors and understand why could they happen, what went wrong, and LEARN from it.
In your examples, Kodak should have asked themselves: what did we do wrong that brought this outcome? In fact they probably did so in the first example you quote, and likely this blocked them in the second example because the answer was "we did something too risky, never do it again."
But this is not true learning.
In the first example: what is that went wrong, what blinded us from noting that SD was a misfit, etc? "It was too dangerous" is a too high-level statement to be taken as a learning.
In the second example they probably learned that being too prudent is also an error. But also this is a too high-level statement. It would be better trying to understand what blinded us from recognizing an opportunity. Corporate procedures? wrong reward system? decision making process? etc.
So the question becomes "how do we extract learning from the past errors?"
I think that this is the key point of the debate here and I would love to hear all MIXhackers opinion on this!
A first tool I'd suggest (a hack in the hack :) is the 5 whys tool http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys which helps get to the core of a problem or issue.

frederic-jleconte's picture

Great lead Leonardo.
Perfect illustration of "Think The Opposite" attitude.
It is important to dare walking that "Failure path".
It is well known, but not much used and therefore business cases and experience feed-back are limited and always the same.
Extraction of learning from such experience is a very good wording.It is a given that leveraging the "5S" questioning can only drive greater understanding and awareness for the first levels, and ultimately potential unexpected breaktrough or collateral benefits when the exercice is pushed to level 5.

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Hi Frederick, thanks!
If you want to check also my other, related hack about "de-appliancizing" employees, I'd love to hear what you think.http://www.mixhackathon.org/hackathon/contribution/de-appliancize-your-e...

michele-zanini_4's picture

That's a great idea, Leonardo. You might like to see this story on the MIX from Engineers Without Borders Canada--they have been publishing an annual Failure Report for five years, and recently spun-off a social enterprise to promote this kind of reporting more broadly: http://www.mixprize.org/story/fail-forward


leonardo-zangrando's picture

Hey Michele,
i didn't know of it, that's great! It means I'm not getting crazy :)
The hack is already there at failforward.org
Organizations willing to adopt it have a much easier life now!