Mistakes happen so leaders need to know when to give second chances, says Alistair Craig.
Have you ever done something wrong at work and thought, “If my line manager found out, they’d sack me”? If not, then congratulations. But imagine if you did make a mistake and your line manager spared you, turning the whole thing into a learning experience.
Business can be challenging and human error is part of life. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s a fact. I’ve made plenty in my working life, some worse than others. But over the course of my career, I’ve also benefited from working with managers and teams that have given me a second chance and allowed me to learn and grow from my errors.
Of course, some mistakes are more costly than others and, while they cannot always be resolved or reversed, they can often be turned into a positive and valuable learning experience that may help your business in the long run and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Grading the mistake
How you handle an error will most likely depend on the size and scale of the mistake that has been made. Sometimes things are easy to overlook, such as someone ordering the wrong printer cartridge or spare part.
If the result of an error is more serious, however, they aren’t so easily overlooked.
How you grade these will depend on how others are affected and how it came about.
Was it carelessness or negligence, a lack of training, understanding or attention? Did the fault result in damage to property, friction with a client or create harmful conditions?
Have a plan ready
It is important to have a plan in place to respond appropriately to an employee’s mistakes. It is also easy to assume that employees will confess when an error has been made, but this won’t always be the case.
Although individuals are accountable for their own actions in the workplace, line managers should be aware of the work being undertaken by employees and have at least an overview at all times of how this is being delivered.
Fix the mistake
Once an error has been brought to your attention, the first step is to understand how and why it happened.
In order to resolve a mistake you need to:
- Tackle the issue as soon as possible.
- Ensure that the appropriate person has been consulted
- and makes the first approach to discuss the situation. This will likely be a line manager for a simple and easily resolved error or HR for a more serious issue.
- Avoid playing the blame game; instead, use facts and give concrete examples of what went wrong and why it matters. It’s important that the employee accepts responsibility for the wrongdoing.
- Understand if there was anything you could have done to prevent the mistake from happening.
- Clearly outline future expectations and move forward.
Turn mistakes into lessons
- Re-educate: If the mistake was caused by a lack of knowledge or understanding, then a training refresh may be effective. However, if this is a common or repeated mistake, then consider department or company-wide re-education.
- Investigate: Is there a more substantive process issue in place that could be improved to reduce the likelihood of mistakes?
- Mentor: More substantial errors may cause employees to lose confidence, so placing them alongside a mentor could provide guidance, encouragement and a positive influence to help them thrive.
- Shadow: On-the-job training offers a steep learning curve, especially for new employees or those who have been away from a role.
- Exemplify: Once this mistake has been resolved, it can be used as an example of what not to do to prevent the same thing recurring.
Alistair Craig is managing director at corporate office FM specialist Anabas
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