On BBC Radio 4's 'The World at One', the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green MP said, "Absolutely we've got to learn the lessons of what is going wrong and make sure it goes right, as it does in the majority of hospitals." You can hear the relevant bit here, after 14 minutes.
Whilst I was pleased to hear lesson learning mentioned as a possible response to the current 'crisis', I was disappointed to hear further reinforcement of the widely-held view that 'lesson learning' is something we do when things go wrong.
[Let's not dwell for too long on the fact that lessons first need to be identified and are only 'learned' when we have made the recommended changes to policies, processes, procedures etc. Most readers of this blog will be sufficiently familiar with this distinction - if not, this post here will explain more.]
Lessons can and should be identified from positive and negative experiences alike. Indeed, when we run lessons capture meetings (or Retrospects) for clients, we ask them to consider what issues had the greatest impact on the project, for good or bad. Then, we need to consider, for negative issues, which are most likely to recur next time unless we do something different. And for positive ones, we need to consider what we need to do to ensure that the positive outcome can be repeated - indeed, can be guaranteed for the future.
Most of the feedback from Retrospect participants, who've not taken part before, is positive. People have often told me how 'relieved' they were that it didn't descend into finger-poking and blaming. Well, without a trained facilitator, keeping the focus on learning, such things can happen, alas.
Indeed, I recall one meeting that was rescheduled twice, and eventually cancelled because 3 people turned up, out of an invited 12. My main point of contact, when discussing the 'no-shows' over coffee later on, said, "You know, it was a real shame people didn't come along, because this was the project we really need to learn from."
I replied, "That's not a 'shame' - it's cause and effect. People have chosen not to come because they are worried that this would have been a 'blame game' exercise."
If you use lesson learning in your organisation, ensure that you capture the good practice as well as identifying where things didn't meet expectations - otherwise, people will continue to think that lessons = bad, and won't want to take part.