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Give employees leeway—but have them fix mistakes

by on
in Leaders & Managers,Office Management,Workplace Communication

You’re desperate not to lose people in this tight labor market. Even your mediocre performers seem irreplaceable.

Fair enough. But people still make mistakes and someone has to set them straight. If you refuse to set and enforce high standards, you’re not doing them any favors and you’ll be stuck with second-rate work.

Respond to blunders in a firm but supportive manner:

Measure frequency and severity. There’s a big difference between making constant minor mistakes and making rare but costly biggies.
  • Manage frequent flubbers by waiting until you can cite a cluster of careless errors. Propose ways they can modify their work habits to avoid so many petty mishaps.
  • For the worker who makes an occasional colossal mistake, assess what went wrong before you express dismay or disapproval. Consider the individual’s overall performance and determine the full range of factors that may have contributed to the error. Invite the employee to help you dissect what happened. Emphasize that you’re not finger-pointing as much as trying to understand how to avoid such problems in the future.

Ratchet up your reaction. Modulate how you respond to errors. If you explode over every trivial oversight, you’ll drive people away.

Instead, calmly discuss your concern the first time and explain how to prevent such errors again. Conduct a more official meeting the second time, perhaps coupling it with a disciplinary memo. The third blunder may call for formal probation, along with a more serious expression of your disappointment.

Test your consistency. Avoid double standards. Respond the same way to employees’ mistakes regardless of who makes them.

If you catch yourself thinking, “Oh, Bill’s special. I can overlook that,” while you chastise another staffer for making the identical mistake, you lose credibility fast.

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