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5 Ways to Deal with Employee Mistakes

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Employee mistakes

Employee Mistakes – 5 Things That Can Help You

I would like to follow-up on one of our popular posts last month “Leaders make mistakes – do you admit them? 3 reasons you should.” What do you do about employee mistakes?  Making mistakes at work is going to happen, right? How you handle employee mistakes is going to say a lot about you as a leader. I have seen my share of different ways of dealing with employee mistakes at work and they have run the gamut from shouting, to doing nothing.

Great leaders cultivate a culture in which employee mistakes are accepted and in many cases embraced as a way to learn and improve. Creating this kind of culture will result in fewer mistakes in the long run.

Here are five tips to help you deal with employee mistakes in a way that is fair and effective.

Note: These tips work with parenting as well.

1. Don’t jump to conclusions. Good leaders understand that they must listen first. They also understand that mistakes at work happen and are part of the process of learning. The worst thing you can do as a leader is to go on a witch hunt with the intent of immediately punishing all who make a mistake. Really listening as to why the employee felt the mistake happened will provide you the perspective you need to help fix the mistake. Start your conversation with the employee by asking  what he or she felt happened and then be prepared to really listen.

2. Discuss the error; discuss your expectations. It will be important that you help the employee take accountability for the mistake. Discussing and highlighting the error and talking about what your expectations are helps them take accountability. It also helps them clearly understand what you think they should have done differently.

3. Discuss a plan. Making mistakes at work is never fun. I have heard on occasion a leader say something to the effect when an employee makes a mistake “this better never happen again.” Well… duh! Of course, don’t you think the employee knows that? Instead you have an obligation as a leader to work with your employee on a plan to discuss how it won’t happen again. As a leader you are a problem solver, not just a direction giver. When an employee mistake happens, a plan needs to be mapped out to help them be successful.

4. Follow up with encouragement and confidence. As long as this isn’t an employee mistake that has been repeated multiple times, it is important that your employee knows that you as a leader have confidence in him or her. You must encourage, not discourage. Tell them the magic four words: “I believe in you.”

5. Ask yourself the bigger question(s). After an employee mistake is discovered and addressed, it is important then to ask whether there is something in your policy and/or procedures as a department or company that needs to be changed. Or is there something you need to reinforce and communicate so others don’t make the same mistake.

Employee mistakes are a challenge for any leader. I understand it isn’t easy. They can become personal, especially if they affect your results and/or bonus. Handling them appropriately is critical to your success and ultimately the success of your organization. When handled well they can result in learning and growing opportunities and happier staff. When not handled well organizations create a culture of fear and a lack of innovation.

How has where you work or worked handled mistakes?”What is the biggest mistake you ever saw made? How was it handled? Please comment below, I would love to hear your story and/or insight.

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Leave a Comment

  • Sandy Merriman May 4, 2012, 6:46 am

    This is spot on. We are all human and we make mistakes… Its all in how you handle them.

  • Mike Rogers May 7, 2012, 6:13 pm

    Thanks Sherry. I agree. Asking the employee what they felt happened is always a good way to tee it off and is a good transition into what might be a difficult conversation. Finding them doing good is also critical, especially as it pertains to the mistake they made. Great comments.

  • Sherry LaBoon May 7, 2012, 6:13 pm

    Good article. Equally important to discussing the issue with the employee is the way you discuss it. As an HR Manager, when I had to discuss issues with employees (if it wasn’t a termination offense), I would sit down with the employee and ask him/her to share with me what happened, to help me understand. Then I would ask them how they feel about it now. Most often they know what they did wrong and are willing to discuss it. Usually this line of sincere questioning leads to an easy transition to discuss the effects this action has on others in the work place and could potentially have on their future, and then to discuss steps to remedy this situation and to avoid it the future.
    As I set goals with employees to overcome some problem, I follow up with them and try to notice them doing things right. Praise goes a long way in helping them improve. And it builds positive relationships in the workplace. That employee could end up being your greatest asset.

  • Ronald N. Cooke May 11, 2012, 10:44 pm

    Let’s say that you are a company manager and the problem is with someone on the shop floor. Consider using the shop foreman as an intermediary. Get the foreman’s perspective about what happened. Of course you need to let the foreman know how you want this handled. This will allow the employee some time to settle down and think about what happened, in case you decide to talk directly with the employee. Using the foreman as a first response helps to ease a possible confrontation with a manager. A skillful foreman may even be able to handle the situation from start to finish.

  • Mike Rogers May 15, 2012, 5:59 pm

    Thanks for your comments Ronald. Assuming the foreman is this employees boss, I would rather see it handled by him or her any way. The manager can do the coaching of the foreman to ensure it gets handled well.

  • Robert February 4, 2016, 1:40 pm

    What if you made a mistake and your supervisor/administrator spoke with you about it but you still have to go before the board to discuss it further?


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