Robservation #5 – Are Lessons Learned REALLY Lessons…Learned?

As many of you know my background is both military and nuclear. And even though it has been a LONG time, I remember well that for most things we did we had to either discuss or document our ‘lessons learned’…“Did you file the lessons learned? Did you look at the lessons learned file? Did you talk about the lessons learned? Did you review the lessons learned?”

Here is my Robservation, sometimes people and organizations try so hard to process lessons learned that they aren’t really learning the lessons. They have the documents, the files, and sometimes the discussions, but are they really LEARNING?

I don’t want to understate the importance of individuals, groups, and organizations learning from their successes and failures. I do want to open our minds to try to start to separate the two elements into their component parts. Lessons (what did we find out, what should we know now that is different) and Learnings (what do we do with the knowledge and is it sustainable learning?). How often have you seen a first line supervisor or manager just not ‘get’ what the lessons learned is supposed to be conveying, or better yet they look at it and state that it doesn’t apply to them or their group?

A very intelligent colleague in oil and gas started having his leaders think in this new way. It makes them try to understand the problem or success in one way and uses different thinking to determine what to do about it. I would challenge that if we are learning well, our repeat incidents would be much lower for like events, and significantly reduced for similar incidents.

Let me suggest that you try this… Once the learning team, near-miss, assessment, observation, audit, or analysis determines the deltas or lessons that we need to learn – gather the right people together to discuss “now how do we make sure all of the people and organizations that NEED to learn from this actually DO learn from it”, and create an effective communication, alignment, and assessment strategy to ensure that the learnings happen. Use this new thinking a few times and see if it doesn’t produce better and more sustainable learnings.

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