Responsible Experiments LO10077

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
19 Sep 96 15:50:37 EDT

Replying to LO10003 -- was: Judgment, Evaluation, Feedback, etc.
[Subject line changed by your host...]

Jeff asks, regarding responsible experiments,

I really liked your "responsible experiments" concept and the regular
discussions in which they are formulated. I would think that the
willingness of people to "think, analyze, learn, and try" is a big factor,
though, and I would also guess that you have created a relationship with
your supervisees in which they feel comfortable to explore and expose
areas that they are not sure about.

I wonder if you might comment on how you established that relationship at
first, and how you address the issue with the individuals who lag behind
in their trust and their willingness to participate in the process.

== end quote ==

You are right that people need to be willing to think, analyze, learn,
try. I try to hire -- or preferably promote -- people who have that

As someone said recently, fish are the last to discover water, and for
that reason it is a bit hard for me to tell you how I established the
right kind of relationship. I think my own attitude is critical in that I
practice the same myself. I am not afraid to critique myself openly --
most of the time -- and people see that I learn from what happens. They
see that I value that, and they want to please the boss. They see that I
will protect them from harm -- aggressively if necessary, but effectively
in any event -- when others take shots at them for making a mistake in a
responsible experiment.

I think it has taken us 4-5 years to get to this point. Today, the task
is different than it was in the beginning when finding, recognizing, and
rewarding the right behaviors was hard because it happened so

Today, I think people see that it works, and that makes my encouragement
less important. What do I mean when I say it works? They achieve high
performance, and the company recognizes it. They see themselves sought
after for promotion opportunities in other departments. They feel good
about themselves. They enjoy their co-workers. They like their work, and
it is hard, demanding work. They personally have accomplished things they
would not have imagined doing a few years ago.

I think these are all accurate statements, but in rereading it I feel that
it misses the point in some way. It overstates the actual situation, and
it understates it. It sounds a bit utopian, which it is not. I and all
my staff have their feet of clay, and we regularly make mistakes, probably
lots of them. We are not particularly focused on think, analyze, learn,
try. We are focused on doing a difficult job that entails a lot of
financial risk. We approach the job as a tough job that can only be
accomplished by big effort from everyone. We try hard to get the big

For me, encouraging others to think, analyze, learn, try was an outcome of
an awareness that I could never do what needed to be done by myself. I
could do the comand and control trick till I was blue in the face, but it
was easier to give permission to try with some requirements to learn, than
it was to say 'no'. Somewhere along the way I discovered that doing less
was accomplishing more. This was not about altruism, it was about

One manager said, after a failed experiment, "You knew this was going to
happen didn't you? Why'd you let me do it?" My answer was, in essence,
that my experience told me it wouldn't work. On the other hand, I have
seen others do things I had failed to do, so my experience was not the
final word. Third, it would be destructive to her for me to say no, or
alternatively, for me to avoid the destructive impact would literally take
a lot more effort from me than giving permission to try. Next the cost of
a failure was not cheap, but it was manageable. Next, our management is
more trusting of us than ever, so we can fail without losing our
credibility. Finally, I thought she would learn more from the 'try' than
from the 'no'. When I told her my reasoning, she responded, "Oh. I'll
have to try that, too."

Yes, people do lag behind. I talk about it openly with them, just as I
try to do about everything. Openly, but diplomatically, sometimes to the
degree that they don't get the point. Too diplomatic, I guess. Those who
don't make the transition are not failures in any sense, but they will not
succeed or enjoy themselves in my department. If it is not a good working
relationship, I try to find them a job elsewhere that takes better
advantage of their talents and skills. Most of the time, after awhile, we
can find a job that is a better fit for them.


Rol Fessenden LL Bean, Inc.

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>