One of my duties here at The NEWS is to copy edit each issue we put out. I scan every page for spelling, grammatical, and style errors, and I pride myself in catching a good number of them. But, alas, I am only human, and humans make mistakes. I have let errors slip by. In fact, every once in a while, a mistake will make it past the watchful eyes and red pens of all of our copy editors. This is why you will occasionally see corrections printed in our table of contents.
Your employees will make mistakes, too — even your very best employees. Everyone does. But making sure you are handling your employees appropriately after they slip up can help ensure they don’t make the same mistake twice.
How to Handle Mistakes
Before we begin, I think it’s important to make a distinction between a mistake that is made without intent or malice and a bad decision that is the result of willful negligence. If an employee is lazy and knowingly cuts corners and sacrifices quality, that is much different from a mistake made due to lack of training or simple human error. If an employee is lazy and his or her work is consistently subpar, it may be time to lower the ax.
For your other employees, there are several steps you can take to help them overcome their mistakes. First, the employee has to know he or she made an error — and that you noticed it. I recently came across an article on Forbes.com that detailed four steps good employees take after they make a mistake, which included first telling their employer about the mistake. Hopefully, your employees will come to you first, but if he or she doesn’t own up to it before you find out, be sure to reprimand them in private (never in public), and don’t lose your cool. I don’t have to tell you that yelling doesn’t foster a positive work environment.
Next, tell the employee you want to discuss the mistake, why it occurred, and how he or she can avoid making the same mistake again. If it is something that can be resolved with some additional training, then perhaps that is the best answer. It’s quite possible the individual never learned the right way to perform the task, which gives you an opportunity to show him or her how. And, while you’re at it, why not offer the training to the rest of your staff, too? I have yet to hear a contractor say he wishes he hadn’t trained the company’s employees so well.
Finally, make sure your employees know that, while you are not mad, they are not necessarily back in your good graces yet, and they may have to work to regain your trust. For some employees, just knowing they screwed up will make them feel bad enough. Others may need you to give them the cold shoulder for a while before they again earn a place in your good graces.
In the end, a good leader will turn a mistake into an opportunity. It is how you help your employees handle their mistakes that will determine the kind of leader you are — and what kind of employee they become.
Publication date: 7/28/2014