The Mistake-Free Workplace! (And Other Fairy Tales)

Perfection is a beautiful idea. So is Santa Claus – but that doesn’t mean you’ll get presents under the tree just by being good.

Likewise, if you set your mind on perfection and decide to accept nothing less, you’re in for a long, hard fall. And the very things you’re hoping to achieve will fall with you.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s a very good thing to set the bar high, to push yourself and others to do more than they ever thought possible. But part of the package when you’re dealing with human beings instead of robots is knowing for a FACT that mistakes will happen on the way to your goals.

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of the human package. So if you’re a manager, how do you deal with employee mistakes when they happen?

First, acknowledge out loud that EVERYBODY screws up from time to time, and that you do not expect perfection. Be sure to include yourself in that as well.

Second, make sure your people know that when they blow it, they need to be the first to bring it to the attention of all those who might be impacted.

Third, make it known that covering up a mistake is unethical and a strong indication of other unethical behavior. This is crucial. As often as not, the cover-up turns a simple mistake into a big problem for many more people.

Fourth, make sure your team members hold each other to a high standard. They shouldn’t wait for a manager to deal with someone who has a history of making mistakes.

Finally, teach your people to be graceful in handling their errors. Saying, “I didn’t know” doesn’t cut it. The only thing that cuts it is ownership: “I blew it and that’s not acceptable. I will make provisions so it won’t happen again.” THAT’S the attitude of someone you can count on.

There’s an easy way to remember this: Screw up, fess up, clean up!

This is all easier said that done, of course. Yes, everyone makes mistakes, but everyone also has a strong tendency to hide them. The best way to help others get over that tendency is by doing it yourself. The next time you drop the ball, put it right out there for everyone to see. It’s a powerful demonstration that won’t be forgotten.

When people handle their mistakes with a high level of integrity and accountability, their whole team knows they can be relied upon. And you know there won’t be a pattern of mistakes to deflate your customers’ perception of you!

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