Never treat your workers’ failures as a disasters. As long as you set objective performance standards, they’ll know when they’ve come up short. You shouldn’t make them feel worse.
Use these techniques to respond to an employee’s failed efforts:
Lend perspective. If an employee promises certain results but doesn’t deliver, discuss what happened in private. Don’t rush to assign blame. Instead, take a broader view.
You might say to a dejected staffer that each article in National Geographic has about 30 photos. It takes on average 14,000 images to produce those 30, so almost all of the photographer’s shots are “failures.”
Dig for lessons. Encourage your employee to dissect what happened in steps. You may want to use a flip chart to map out the events as they unfolded; this is a nonthreatening way to analyze events more accurately. Maintain a curious but dispassionate stance. By making it clear you’re not trying to scold, you enable employees to learn how to improve.
Commit to solutions. For workers who repeatedly fail, you may not want to slap them on the back and say, “Don’t worry about it.” The stakes may be getting too high, so you need to provide more guidance.
After listening to the employee’s account of his failure, ask, “If you could pinpoint three steps you could take that would improve your results, what would they be?” Use the answer to tailor a three-pronged action plan that isolates exactly what the individual must do to improve.
Number the three points on paper. Conclude by saying, “Commit to these three steps and you’ll improve. Now we both know what has to happen for you to succeed.”