For many business owners and managers, one of the hardest things to do is giving your employees freedom. This freedom comes with so many possibilities, including a myriad of mistakes. While these mistakes serve as opportunities to learn and grow, they can also prove detrimental to any company. The fine line between good and bad mistakes is the aftermath with regard to the employee, as well as the employer. A good mistake is one that would see the employee learn from it, own the mistake, look for ways to fix it and implement measures to ensure that the mistake will not be repeated.
In the present world, many business leaders are inclined to take a ‘heads will roll’ approach to any mistake that occurs in the workplace. These sort of ‘iron rule’ tactics do nothing for the correction of the mistake, or even the future improvement of the employee.
As a business leader, you need to be able to observe and learn about each of your employees’ character traits. You cannot successfully lead everyone using the same technique. It is important to consider the fact that some employees thrive on acknowledgment and positive feedback, while others need to be motivated by fear of being in trouble. Think of this as adopting a heat-and-light management approach.
The most common approach many business leaders take is management through light. However, it is impossible to constantly give feedback, and negate the importance of giving constant heat to your employees. Praising their efforts and ability to produce results is as important as emphasizing that they have to actually produce results. Therefore, you should also highlight the possibility of heat if these expectations are not met. Every employee should know that their choices, and the results, have consequences.
Consequences do not mean violence or yelling; this means the employee is aware of the fact that something is on the line. So, how do you apply this heat and ensure that once a mistake is made, it will not be repeated? Here are 8 tips that will guide you on what to do when an employee makes a mistake:
1. Don’t jump to conclusions
As a good leader, you should be able to listen first before taking any course of action. It is important to understand that mistakes are likely to occur in the workplace. Think of first-time mistakes as a learning process for you, as well as the employees. Do not immediately go on a rampage and seek out the employee responsible just to punish the mistake, instead of sitting down with the employee and understanding why the mistake happened. This will give you insight into how you can help, and ultimately fix the mistake. Initiate the conversation by asking exactly what transpired - and actually listen.
2. Point out the mistake
Once you have cooled down, highlight the error to your employee. Reacting in anger can result in irrational discussions, and can even ignite a potentially violent environment. Once a mistake has occurred, you need to give yourself and the employee some time to reflect and go through the events that took place. This should essentially be a period of 24 to 48 hours; then you can debrief. This reflection period is only applicable to situations where there is little or no urgency. If this is not the case, you need to address the matter with immediate effect and correct the error before taking time to reflect on what has happened.
3. Don’t yell or overreact
When you reprimand while yelling, you are breeding grounds for resentment. When you yell, you are making sure that the message you are trying to get across will not be understood. Yelling only results in regret, and you may spend more time working through that issue than addressing the actual mistake. Yelling only works against you and in the end, you will need to rebuild trust with that particular employee.
4. Check your employee’s reaction
Take note of how your employee reacts to the mistake. The employee should be remorseful, and take the mistake seriously. A good manager does not berate the employees for their mistakes. Instead, you should ensure that employees take their mistakes seriously enough to prevent them from happening in the future. If the employee is already doing this, you are on the right course. However, if this is part of a pattern, you need to address the pattern rather than the particular incident.
It is natural for employers to address individual mistakes rather than a broader pattern. However, the best way is to talk to your employee about this pattern, as it is the real issue.
5. State your expectations
Discuss with your employee what you would have expected in that particular situation. This helps the employee take accountability for what happened, and gives them perspective on what should have been done instead. Reviewing the mistake without giving a clear explanation of what should have been done is completely redundant. Explain the right process and the right approach in detail, to ensure the same thing does not happen again - and even if it does, your employee will be prepared to handle it well.
6. Plan new rules
With the help of your employee, plan new rules and processes. This is employing a problem-solver approach, which helps to eliminate the possibility of a repeated mistake. Clearly define what needs to happen the next time the mistake happens while working through the process. Think of this as a map for success with every loophole covered.
7. Be firm
Even after the mistake has been analysed and safety measures have been put in place, don’t immediately go back to being the nice employer. This does not mean that you have to be cold to your employee; they just need to feel some distance from you. This helps give them a sense of your disappointment, and that things are not okay because of the mistake committed. Think of a timeout scenario - they will know that what happened has not been taken lightly, and is by no means okay. The employee needs to feel that they must earn your trust by doing a particular thing without messing up again.
8. Discipline privately
From the moment you learn about the mistake, all these discussions should be with that particular employee only. If it gets to a point where you need to discipline or reprimand, do it in private. Do not attempt to make the employee an example to others. Public spectacles only bring about contempt and ridicule, which only means the employee has no space to learn from what happened. Create a neutral and safe space for the employee to learn without embarrassment.
Current society is set up in such a way that people feel they need to yell or be aggressive to get a message across. The result of this is a workforce that has no confidence and are not self-starters. As much as mistakes are a challenge and can have terrible effects, you should be able to take an approach that considers the future of the company and your relationship with the employee. A good employer cultivates a workplace where mistakes are accepted, and the employees are encouraged to learn and grow from them.
How you handle mistakes is critical to the success of both the business and the entire workforce. When not handled appropriately, mistakes can result in a lack of innovation and a culture of fear. When handled well, the possibility of a mistake recurring is eliminated and the result is fewer mistakes in the long run.
How do you handle such situations in your company? Let us know in the comments below.