I remember being a new manager and strongly believing that my job was to prevent my employees from making mistakes. After all I was the more experienced one and if I allowed them to fail what value did I bring to the company. Luckily this was a long time ago and I have learned better.
Everyone understand that making mistakes is a part of learning. Just like babies needs to fall down before they learn to walk, employees need to make wrong turns to be better equipped to solve problems later.
The problem comes from understanding that mistakes can cost your company a great deal of money. As a leader I had to learn to balance the need for allowing people make mistakes with protecting my company from losing money. Trying to become a good leader I was set to find a way to reach this balance.
First I realized that there are two types of mistakes – some come from genuine lack of experience of knowledge while others are what can be called ‘stupid’ mistakes. Stupid mistakes are those that are done because of laziness, lack of interest, absence of motivation. These types of mistakes need to be discouraged and be dealt with. We’ll focus on those mistakes that actually benefit your employees, your company and you.
First thing I do is I break my projects and even parts of projects into those that are absolutely critical and those where I can afford some setback. That decision comes from project specifics, timelines, people I have working on it. The same project can transition from one designation to the other as circumstances change. Now I knew which projects I could use to give people a bit more freedom and room to experiment with new ways.
My next step is to communicate to all employees that making mistakes IS OK. Not only there is no punishment but it is actually rewarded. One caveat is that each employee must be able to explain why they made the decision they made. This way I know it’s done for the right reasons, with the right intentions. Once again, I am trying to separate genuine mistakes from ‘stupid’. Another caveat is that repeating the same mistakes “IS NOT OK”. The goal is to learn from them, not repeat them over and over again.
Once this is communicated I set an expectation with my team that I will protect them from any consequences that might arise from their mistake the first time they make it.
As a leader I have learned to allow my employees to make mistakes. This establishes a trust relationship with the team where they know that making a mistake is not a failure. Working in this environment allows for greater creativity and flow of new ideas.
These are the few rules that will allow you to benefit the most from your employee’s mistakes.
- Learn from your mistakes and mistakes of others. Look at them objectively and analyze them.
- Own your mistake. Don’t get defensive. Don’t try to excuse them. Mistake is a good thing.
- Fix your mistakes. Realize early that you made a mistake, find an approach to fix it and move forward.
- Be honest with others if you made a mistake. People will help you fix it if they see that you understand it.
- Don’t repeat your mistakes.
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