Dealing With Mistakes

by admin on April 8, 2011

Failure can seem overwhelming, but it is an opportunity as wellIt doesn’t matter if you are in an entry level position or a position of corporate leadership, sometime on the job you are going to make a mistake. Depending on the skill level and trust you have built up that mistake may well have enormous ramifications for your company. How you handle the mistake can affect a great many things within your job. It can shape the way people in management see you and relate to you as well as whether or not they feel confident in trusting you. It can affect the operational status of your company at whatever level you are operating at. It can affect the way your coworkers view you in much the same way that it affects management. Similarly, if you are in management and are learning of a mistake from an underling this can be an opportunity to grow your team or simply a nail in your coffin of mediocrity.

The people we hire to work for us, by and large want us to succeed. More importantly, they want to feel a part of that success is directly attributable to them. Self gratification is an important part of the “compensation package”. When we (or they) screw up, it is not because they wanted to but rather a mistake or a misunderstanding of procedures, policies etc…. The environment should be such that a mistake can be freely communicated in a timely manner without the need for immediate retribution. If you send or receive an e-mail which says “I was migrating a server and in the middle of the move everything stopped” the response should not be “How can you let this happen?” rather, the first response should be “What backups do we have? Have you logged in and verified that the transfer really failed? Is the old system still in place?” or any number of other constructive things to check that the panicked mistake maker may have missed. Allow the team in place to function as a team to identify solutions to the problem. This type of action path will lead to people being more open about mistakes which allows you to more accurately judge skill levels, plan training and delegate responsibility without fear of the unknown.

Once the mistake is dealt with, an after action review may be warranted (depending on the scope and severity as well as the need to train on procedures). A good manager will focus on finding out why he/she didn’t prevent the employee from making the mistake. In the example above “Did you have a written plan? Was a fall back scenario in the plan?” … With the manager adding “I should have reviewed your plan with you and a couple of team mates to see if we could add anything to it collectively. Further, I should have reviewed it prior to your implementing it to take responsibility for it. The operational errors are yours to learn from and the lesson was expensive, we hope it will benefit you in your future performance with us. My errors in management are mine as well as yours to learn from.” These types of responses share the responsibility and make employees feel that they are a safe part of the team which will allow them (once they know the box well) to work outside the box and ultimately help them to become good leaders as ¬†well.

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