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What to do when somebody makes a mistake

Mistakes   Perfection starts with with mistakes

One of the questions every leader will ask at some point in time is what to do when somebody makes a mistake. To punish? To forgive? Maybe a combination of both? The answer is very simple, stick with us.

First and above all, you should know that people are, well, people, not robots. People make mistakes. That's especially true in today's high-speed, highly-competitive market. Today it's a luxury to have enough time to strive for perfection: in most cases competition will eat you alive. So, you must focus on speed over perfection. That naturally leads to errors and mistake somewhere along the way.

When a mistake happens, know - and make sure your employees know - that mistakes happen and that they in fact can lead to success. Mistake are bad in three situations: they are not corrected, people are afraid to admit they made them, and... well, we can't remember what's the No3. See, every mistake can be corrected so there's no need to act like a dictator and punish everybody that makes some now and then.

If you do that, your employees will be afraid to push themselves to the limit - because the higher you go, the biggest chance you'll make a mistake - and they will stall. Of course, we are not talking here about those who can't do anything right but even in their case you should stop for a moment and ask yourself why they are doing that. Is there a problem in communications? Is in, in fact, true that they are making mistakes all the time? Are they on the right job?

Now, what to do when a mistake occurs? The first thing to remember is: focus on the problem, not on the individual that caused it. This is so important we'll say it again: focus on the problem. Anybody with half a brain already knows who made a mistake so there's no need to point to them publicly and stress again "He made a mistake!" See what went wrong and find the solution to prevent the same mistake again. The point is that you should educate all of your employees about that particular mistake, not just one person, to be able to avoid the same mistake again.

One of the best thing you, the leader, can do is to say "Folks, we have a problem here. We made a mistake and we have to correct it." That small word, we, can do miracles. It is so simple yet it clearly shows that you and your team are one and it's clear to everyone that you don't' want to focus publicly on a particular individual, instead you are trying to solve the problem. The person who made a mistake will appreciate that move more than you think.

It is also a good habit to talk about your mistakes from the past and how you solved it. That's not just education, that's the sign to everybody else that those who make mistakes now and then can learn from them and go up the corporate ladder.

And in the end, there's reward philosophy. It's simple, really, and it comes down to this: reward, don't punish. Instead of punishing the bad worker, reward a good one.

The thing is the a majority of employees, speaking from our broad experience, will strive for more if there's a reward in sight. So, focus on those who are doing great things every day and give them some reward and others will follow.

The bottom line is: your job is to help your people to be the best they can be - and even better than that - and not to seek who could be punished today. That's a very important way of thinking for every leader.


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