An exception is anything outside the norm – something which is unusual, untypical, not what we expect or have become used to.
We should learn from both positive and negative exceptions and apply the learnings to ensure a more positive future result. More specifically, we should unpack the command or leadership actions which sit behind all exceptions. In doing so we enable those in leadership roles to gain clarity regarding what they should be doing to better enable each of their direct reports.
Exceptions, in other words, should be seen as golden opportunities to learn about and enhance the quality of leadership in an enterprise. They should be used to raise the calibre of leadership at every level in the line of command.
An exception can pertain to either a specific incident or to a result. Both incidents which are negative (a disabling injury, a customer complaint, a protracted breakdown); and those which are positive (a project delivered significantly below budget, an exceptional product launch, a shutdown completed in record time) constitute exceptions. Similarly, an abnormal result, as reflected as a score on a scoreboard (profit, sales revenue, picking error rate, customer service index), can be defined as an exception when it is unusually better or worse than the norm.
Very often the response to a positive exception is no response. The positive outcome is taken for granted and we move on to the next challenge. More appropriately we pause long enough to at least celebrate the ‘win’; we have a party. Praise and reward is given, though not necessarily to the right people. Then we move on.
What rarely happens is that we take the time to learn from the positive event. We take time to understand who contributed what to the positive outcome and then apply that learning to ensure the positive result is maintained or repeated going forward.
When a serious negative event occurs, our immediate response is to take crisis action to ameliorate or reduce the negative effect. This is appropriate: when the boat springs a leak, we should scurry to find a way to ‘plug’ the hole in the boat. Typically, an investigation is launched which may or may not get to the root cause. Sometimes the ‘culprits’ are punished; people are held accountable though not necessarily appropriately. More likely as a corrective action than holding people accountable is to rather impose another control, a checklist or an additional checker, to ensure that this never happens again.