The forgotten art of self-reflection

I think everyone will agree that the reason we all go to work every day and help drive our businesses forward is because we want to be number 1.

We want to be the number 1 sales persons, we want to be number 1 in our market, we want to be the number 1 in production. Everyone likes to be number 1! But there can only ever be one top dog.

So when the boss tells everyone they want to improve performance, what do we usually reach for….. 


…. That’s right. A blank space, a blank page, a blank flip chart. We strive to come up with something completely new and improved to help us get to that number 1 spot. Sometimes we even go the extra mile and hire a nice hotel conference room to sit in while we think, or maybe even take the team away to a retreat.

But let me ask you this: is your business good at what it does? I’m going to hazard a guess that the answer is yes. Of course you are. So why do you need to come up with something completely new? Why reinvent the wheel? If you’re a business who is already good at what it does, how about taking what you do and just doing it better?

This may sound obvious, but what I can tell you is that simple self-reflection is something many businesses are poor at. And the reason for this is that the only time we ever really self-reflect on what we’ve done is when we carry out investigations into serious incidents.

Let’s face it, nobody really wants to hear the findings of an investigation into a serious incident because it usually identifies a number of things we’ve done wrong. And if there’s anything we like less than criticism, it’s having to change, which is another thing that usually comes out of an investigation.

So what do we do? We make it sound less serious, we brush it aside as minor, and we carry on doing what we were doing.

I think it’s time for a different approach. As I mentioned, you’re already really good at what you do. But we all know that nobody’s perfect. So instead of only reflecting when something goes seriously wrong, how about we look at the more minor issues we encounter.

In industry, these things are called ‘near misses’ and they are generally investigated infrequently or poorly.

People often ask me on training courses “how do I investigate more serious incidents”. And my answer is this: The same way you investigate a near miss. Because your serious incident is just three near misses that all happened at the same time.

Near misses are by far our best opportunities for improvement. They should be looked at as freebies, because nobody was hurt, the findings are usually less damning than a serious incident, and the improvements are easier to implement.

Remember, you’re already really good at what you do. But we all make minor errors from time to time. Use them as your best opportunity to self-reflect, make changes, prevent major incidents and be even better at what you already do well.