06th June 2019

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Let me start by saying… I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my working life. Some worse than others. I can also say, that over the course of my career, I have benefited from working with managers and teams who have given me a second chance and allowed me to learn and grow from my errors.

Have you ever done something wrong at work and thought, ‘If my line manager found out, they’d sack me’? Hopefully, this doesn’t happen to you very often, and if you can say it has never happened to you, then congratulations.

Imagine this did happen to you though, and your line manager found out and spared you by turning it into a learning experience…

So, what should you do when an employee makes a mistake?

How you handle an error will most likely depend on the size and scale of the mistake that has been made. Sometimes things are easy to overlook, such as someone ordering the wrong printer cartridge or spare part. If the result of an error is more serious, however, they aren’t so easily overlooked. How you grade these will depend on how others are affected. Was it carelessness or negligence, a lack of training, understanding or attention? Did the fault result in damage to property, friction with a client or create harmful conditions?

It’s important to have a plan in place to appropriately respond to an employee’s mistakes. It is also easy to assume that employees will confess when an error has been made, but this won’t always be the case. Whilst individuals are accountable for their own actions in the workplace, line managers should be aware of the work being undertaken by employees and have at least an overview at all times of how this is being delivered.

Once an error has been brought to your attention, the first step is to clearly understand what mistake was made and how it came about. In order to resolve a mistake you need to;

  • Strike whilst the iron is hot and tackle the issue as soon as possible;
  • Ensure the appropriate person has been consulted and makes the first approach to discuss the situation. This will likely be a line manager for a simple and easily resolved error but a more serious issue may require the involvement of HR;
  • Don’t play the blame game – use facts and give concrete examples – it is important that the employee accepts responsibility for the wrong-doing;
  • Understand if there was there anything you could have done to prevent the mistake from happening; and
  • Clearly outline future expectations and move forward.

Turn mistakes into lessons learned

What key steps can be taken to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again?

  • If the mistake was caused by a lack of knowledge or understanding then a training refresh may be effective – if this is a common or repeated mistake, then consider department or company-wide re-education.
  • Investigate to see if there is a more substantive process issue in place that could be improved to reduce the likelihood of mistakes.
  • More substantial errors may cause employees to lose confidence. So placing them alongside a mentor may provide the guidance, encouragement and positive influence required to help them thrive.
  • On the job training or shadowing can support a steep learning curve especially for new employees or those who may have been away from a role for a time.

Finally, once steps have been taken to resolve an issue, it can be used as an example of what not to do in order to prevent the same re-occurring in the future.

Business can be challenging and human error is part of life. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s a fact. However, some mistakes are more costly than others and, whilst they cannot always be resolved or reversed, they can often be turned into a positive and valuable learning experience which may help your business in the long run and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.



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