You know how when you’ve just had a heart-breaking argument with your significant other and you turn on the radio only to find the song blasting from it perfectly describe how you feel? The other day the same thing happened to me after a member of my team made a blundering mistake that had serious monetary repercussions for the company. It wasn’t a song, but rather an article that I came across published by Forbes a few years ago written by Amy Rees Anderson entitled “Good Employees Make Mistakes, Great Leaders Allow Them To” (Anderson, 2015).
When I first learned of the blunder at the office, my first impulse was to pull out my hair and scream at the ceiling in frustration. How could such a bright employee make such a rookie mistake – especially after rigorous and intensive training over the past year since joining the team? In a nutshell, one of our customer service representatives bypassed a critical step that was put in place as a check & balance gateway that is part of our standard operating procedure for generating quotations to clients. Was it complacency, oversight, lack of focus due to a personal problem that caused him to prematurely press the send button?
Whatever the reason at the time, that mistake resulted in a financial loss to the company not to mention the negative impact on our goodwill with the client. I won’t burden you with the details but suffice it to say, I thankfully kept my cool and dealt with the matter in a level-headed way (something I would have struggled with during my younger, more impatient, years). After reading the article, I was relieved that I had done so, as I wasn’t too far off from the author’s recommendations.
Should we allow room for mistakes?
Anderson describes what most managers like myself feel: how scary it is to give your employees the freedom to make mistakes. On one hand, mistakes allow individuals to learn and grow. On the other, mistakes can often end up being costly to any company. Her realization was that great leaders are the ones that allow their people to take risks. The key is how to do it without jeopardising the company at the same time.
Was it an honest mistake?
A sensible approach would be to determine which areas in your business can mistakes occur without causing too much damage. Obviously, the areas that affect client trust or require executive involvement should be off limits. The key is that when a mistake is made, it is communicated to all the employees that making it is OK as long as it was an honest one. As a manager, you should get the whole team to support the person who made it to rectify the situation and come up with ways to avoid it in the future. However, if that mistake is repeated, then that person is on his/her own – and will have to face the consequences that entail it.
What about next time?
Mistakes enable us to arrive at new and great ideas – not to mention innovation. One could also say that mistakes are not failures, but rather a process of eliminating ways that don’t work in order to arrive at ways that do. Hence why great leaders allow their people to make mistakes. My experience in dealing with mistakes can be summarised in the following 3 steps, which you may find quite useful too:
If you learn from a mistake, chances are you won’t repeat it! At the end of the day, I believe what really counts is to ask yourself after making a mistake: What have I learned from my past actions, and more importantly, what do I intend to do next?
Next week we’ll take this further and look at 10 Awesome Tips To Avoid Mistakes In The Workplace.