So you’ve hired an awesome team of all-star employees, everyone is meshing well, employee engagement is fantastic, everything is going smoothly. And then something happens. Someone makes a mistake. And, though you’re trying to keep your cool, you’re struggling with how best to respond. Your first impulse is likely to spring into action immediately and fix it, but swift action does not necessarily equal effective action.
We’ve all been in those situations, where we’ve reacted without thinking and then regretted the outcome. So how should you respond when otherwise good employees make mistakes? Here’s our practical checklist to help you smooth things over and initiate some effective damage control.
Step 1: Hit the pause button. If you’re feeling a rush of adrenaline, put your hypothalamus to bed. You’re not actually being physically threatened, so your fight or flight response is not going to help you deal with an employee performance issue. Remind yourself that even the best employees make mistakes, and it is moments like these that can define you as a leader. Take a walk around the block, eat some chocolate, call a family member, do whatever it is that takes you out of adrenaline-fuelled action mode and brings you back in touch with your rational self.
Step 2: Identify the consequences. Is this an egregious error that will cost the organization thousands of dollars or result in legal action, or an honest mistake that will not have any lasting effects? What is likely to happen/ has happened as a result? Articulating the consequences of the mistake will help you determine the seriousness of the transgression and how best to proceed.
Step 3: Be a detective. Take a step back and look at all of the contributing factors. People are rarely actually trying to perform poorly or make mistakes. Assume that employees want to do their jobs well. Put yourself in their shoes, and approach the situation with curiosity. In this instance, what exactly went wrong and why? Be honest with yourself in this process – we may not want to admit it, but often employee errors happen because of simple miscommunication. Is there something you could do differently moving forward?
Step 4: Clarify your message. Once you’ve examined the issue, determine what you actually need to communicate. Be clear on what outcome you want, and what your expectations are and then carefully choose your language. Avoid using a blaming or curt tone. Chances are the person knows they dropped the ball, and is already feeling badly about it.
Step 5: Choose the channel. Once your message is clear, you need to decide how to deliver it. Texting or sending an email is quick and convenient, but it can be easy for the recipient to misinterpret the tone behind the message. Likewise, it is easier for the sender to be trigger-happy when hiding behind technology, and end up delivering the message in a less than emotionally intelligent way. Your tone matters, so choose the channel that is least likely to foster bad feelings moving forward. Really, if the issue is important enough to trigger a strong reaction, it’s important enough to merit a conversation.
Step 6: Create a plan. Work with the employee to come up with an action plan to fix the mistake, and formulate safeguards for preventing the situation from happening again. After all, our mistakes shouldn’t define us, since it is what we do after we make them that really matters. Show trust by allowing your employees to fix their mistakes and supporting them in the process.
Step 7: Give them guidelines. Taking a sympathetic line on employee blunders doesn’t mean that they’re off the hook, and have no responsibility to address mistakes. Make it part of your employee policy to embrace mistakes. Empower employees to deal with their own, and incorporate that sense of accountability into your culture.
So, at the end of the day you want to accept mistakes as a natural part of growth, admit them quickly, and move past them; after all, you don’t learn anything from nailing something perfectly the first time.
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Feeling irritated, flustered, panicky, or just plain frustrated because of something an employee has done (or hasn’t done) recently? Using these steps as a guide, take the incident as the perfect opportunity to learn some lessons, try some new approaches to dealing with what happened and trust that it will all work out. Let us know how it goes and know that we are here to help if you need it!