Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Not So Simple Steps for Handling Mistakes

We've all been there, that moment when you know you've made a mistake.  What do you do?  If you look around you in the world you will see that there are different ways people handle a mistake.

1.  Blame someone else.  I think we've all probably been on the receiving end of this one before.
2.  Ignore it and hope it goes unnoticed.  And how often does this really work?
3.  Own up to it.  Much harder than it sounds.

As leaders the way you handle mistakes will be noticed and followed by those who work for you.  In addition, the way you respond to other's mistakes will be similarly noticed.  Here are some good tips for handling mistakes.

If you made the mistake.

1.  Own up to it.
2.  Propose a fix.
3.  Accept the consequences.
4.  Learn from the mistake.
5.  Move on.

Don't beat yourself up for a mistake.  Some are huge and sometimes step three may mean the loss of a job, a friendship, or money.  Moving on means forgiving yourself after you have accepted the consequences and learned the lesson.

If your employee made the mistake.

1.  Notify those who need to know about the mistake, the proposed fix, and the timeline for the fix.
2.  Discuss the consequences and the lesson with the employee.
3.  Look at the process that allowed the mistake to go forward uncaught.  
4.  Own up to any mistakes you made in the review process.
5.  Propose a fix for the process.
6.  Accept the consequences.
7.  Learn from the mistake.
8.  Move on.

Failing forward is a recognized technique for employee development.  However, too often, the way leaders handle the failure is to punish (either overtly or subconsciously) those who failed.  In this case move on means not only letting go of the guilt for any part of the process you own, but letting the employee move forward as well.  Yes, you may need to increase supervision or review of products, but don't do it in a penalty-like way.  Do it in a way that shows you have owned your part of the process breakdown.

These things aren't easy and it is always tempting to blame another or bury your head in the sand.  A true leader will stand up and own mistakes in the same way they would own a success.  

What other tips do you have for handling mistakes?