December 18, 2012

What Every Manager Ought To Know About Employee Mistakes

Mistakes are a part of life for managers and employees (and every other human on the planet).  Of course, mistakes usually result in something that needs to be fixed, which means rework, lost productivity, damaged relationships, and other outcomes that cost money.  Since your Company is paying for the mistake anyway, why not get your money’s worth out of it?  The best managers use employee mistakes to teach and develop their employees.  To think about mistakes solely in terms of the inconvenience and cost incurred is like throwing money away.

Here are a few areas to dig into when an employee makes a mistake.  Try a few of these questions:

What background information should I know to understand how this happened? 

What else was going on when the decision was made?  Were there any time constraints?  Who else was involved, and how?  What is the scale of the issue (number of persons impacted, cost to fix, etc.).  Context is key.

What problem were you trying to solve? employee mistakes

Try to understand how the employee defined the problem, and why s/he thought some action was necessary.

Did you consider other options?  If so, what were they?  What criteria did you use to evaluate your options?

Dig into the employee’s decision making process.  Learn what the employee knew or didn’t know, and how s/he used the information they had. 

What outcome did you expect?

Answers to this question may shed light on the employee’s understanding of “how the system works.”  You turn the key to start the car.  You click on the link to get to the website.  You did _________ so that ____________ would happen.  A lot of mistakes are due to an employee’s assumptions about how things work.

Did you ask for advice or help?  If so, who did you ask?  If not, why not?

Many mistakes could be avoided if we use the resources available to us.  Know what (if any) resources your employee relies on for help.  Ensure that s/he has access to perspectives and support that is reliable and effective for the job.  Also, make sure the employee feels safe asking for help.

Making mistakes can be stressful and embarrassing for your employees.  Be careful to not make the embarrassment worse.  Doing that may result in decreased performance due to resentment/ lower morale, loss of initiative from employees, turnover and many other undesirable outcomes.  Regardless of the job, you need employees who are able to decide issues in the best manner for the Company.  A good manager works to replicate his/her judgment and perspective in the employees. 

Don’t waste a good mistake.

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