In reviewing performance, actual versus budget results, or the accomplishments of a new project, when there is a deviation from the desired, i.e. when then there is mistake, people give you an explanation why it happened and believe they are off the hook.
I consider such explanations excuses: "Here is why it could not have been done..... Here are the reasons..... Sorry." Etc.
And you, as the leader, are left to either believe their explanation or if not, hold the person guilty of non-performance and find a way to punish or not reward the person(s).
All wrong. A problem, a mistake that we did not learn from will be repeated.
All deviations from the desired, all so called problems, should be invitations to learn.
So ask yourself the question:
What did we or I not do, either right or not at all, that caused the problem? How can we avoid having this problem repeat itself?
Do this exercise as a team project. You will be surprised how many good ideas will emerge and the more serious the problem was, the more valuable the results of the exercise will be.
In other words, instead of asking the question why we had the deviation, why the problem was born, which will cause people to give an explanation and thus excuses, ask for what reason did we have this problem, what can we learn from the problem so it does not get repeated? When you do that, the problem becomes an opportunity. For learning. For improving.
You do not learn from success. You learn from failures if you are willing to analyze where you went wrong, and why, and what can you do better next time.
Admitting you can do better next time, that you have learned from your past mistakes, takes courage. It also requires an organizational culture where mistakes are considered an opportunity for learning and not an opportunity for punishing.
Take an athlete. His or her goal is to shave ten seconds from his past record in a hundred yard dash.
They did not succeed; someone else won first place. What should a good coach do?
Scream and punish the athlete for not succeeding? (This is not as rare as it might seem. I know of a coach who actually went and hit the athlete for failing to get to first place).
A good coach would have videotaped the race and subsequently analyzed what can be learned from the experience. What his or her athlete should do better next time. That is how you improve.
Success is not how little you fall. It is how fast you get up. And how much you learned from falling so you do not repeat it.
In other words, it is OK to fail once and learn from it. Just do not repeat the same mistake again because, if you do, it means you did not learn from the first experience and now we wonder if you are capable of learning. And you are only as good as you are able to learn and improve.
In my hiring experience I look for people with experience. What does that mean?
They have had a lot of failures and came out of it winners. Not ones who had failures and remained failures. Those are the ones who did not learn.