In Inc., Justin Bariso describes three lessons from Google’s process for “learning from failure.” They call the process the post mortem. There is no doubt that we, and the leaders that we serve, will make mistakes. As change practitioners, learning these lessons from Google can serve us well. And, if we can successfully bring them to the leaders that we serve, even better!

  1. “Identify the most important problems.” Not every mistake requires a post mortem. Define the criteria for when it is important to conduct them, and stick to it. Your criteria may not be complete, especially early on. If there is a big mistake that doesn’t fit the criteria, change the criteria so that the post mortem is conducted.
  2. “Create a record.” When a post mortem is warranted, it is important to bring the team together, and to take the time needed to do it correctly. Bariso recommends 30-60 minutes. Among the questions answered are, “What happened, why, its impact, how the issue was mitigated or resolved, what we’ll do to prevent the incident from recurring, what went well, what didn’t go well, where did we get lucky, and what can we do differently next time?”
  3. “Promote growth, not blame.” By moving the focus away from blame, you open the door to greater candor, insight, and learning.

Google offers a post mortem template.

As simple as it sounds, in many organizations, successfully implementing a process such as this can be undermined by fear of repercussions when (not if) things go wrong. Creating that culture of learning, not blaming, is the most challenging part of the process.