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Screw Up Management – How To Deal With Someone Who Made A Serious Mistake

To err is human. It’s a fact of life. The reasons for making a big mistake are various and not all of the mistakes are done intentionally. But, what happens if a mistake made by one of your employees causes a major mess-up that will cost your company a fortune? Even the rockstar employees can make serious mistakes such as failing to maintain good client communication or even making a typo that could jeopardize the entire project. Some companies suffered a huge financial loss due to reprimanding invaluable but demanding clients. Others had a poor leadership that caused a massive exodus of talent and created a downward spiral.

One example of poor leadership that people often cite is Yahoo’s ex-CEO, Marisa Mayer. Her mission was to reinvent and breathe life into a stagnating company, however, some blame her concern about building her own image, lack of sound strategy, and lack of extensive experience for creating the toxic culture that eventually brought the company to downfall.

What is the right way to handle the situation when the ship hits the iceberg? One of the secrets of being a great leader is not only the ability to be proactive, face all governing challenges and identify the factors that can lead to these issues but also the willingness to come up with the least painful solutions to the problem.

When an employee makes a mistake…

So, the next time you find yourself in such a crisis, these are the things you should consider:

  • Turn mistakes into learning lessons

According to Paul Schoemaker, co-author of Brilliant Mistakes, the best kind of mistake is where the costs are low, but the learning is high. Errors happen for a variety of reasons and focusing your efforts on solving them and then moving on is not enough for your business to thrive. Take the “treat the symptoms instead of addressing the cause” approach and turn these mistakes into valuable learning lessons not only for the mistake-doer but for the entire team.

Encourage the open discussion about any necessary improvement plan or training time and, most importantly, ask them to propose a solution to the problem. This way, you will stimulate them to use their own head and think of the least painful and most efficient way how to prevent similar issues from arising in future. Christopher Gergen co-author of Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives, thinks that we need to get them on top of it and make them deal with it. Interestingly, once they come up with a solution themselves they will stick to it more easily.

  • Develop a strict policy

Your team of employees should be the pillar of your business growth. Creating the team of high-productive and proficient employees does not mean that the business will run smoothly all the time. Even the most ambitious and successful leaders that move the boundaries of modern technology can put their own business at risk. However, the problem arises when those mistakes keep repeating.

In these scenarios, you should consider creating a strict, cleverly planned company policy and communicate it to your employees. While striving towards creating a fun and open working environment should be one of your top priorities, you should also make people take responsibility for their mistakes and become aware of the possible repercussions that will follow.

For example, when Buffer suffered a security breach, one of the practices they used was Whole Company Support – a method which makes each team member truly understand customer’s needs and expectations and actively participate in client communication. They instructed all employees to deal with supporting customers in order to deal with a staggering influx of communication with customers they received during the hack. This all-hands situation turned out to be the most reasonable approach to such freak problems caused by outsiders.

  • Don’t look for a quick fix

Once we realize that the mistake being made is much larger in scope than we expected, the first thing most of us would do is to search for the quickest and most efficient possible solution and hastily cover up what happened. While, in theory, this may seem as the perfect remedy, it may not work in practice.

Be mindful that making the quick, immediate decision can be a double-edged sword and lead to even more serious consequences. These consequences can be highly detrimental to your business. Instead of rushing into conclusions, allocate some time to look at the bigger picture and consider all possible options. Susan Halden-Brown at Human Kinetics compares decision-making with the way tennis players refocus before a second serve and she thinks that it’s necessary to give yourself time before you bounce the ball.

  • Invest wisely in performance coaching

Not all the mistakes are made equal and not all of them are made intentionally. However, when an employee makes a mistake it is mainly because of lack of knowledge. In order to know the ropes, you first need to learn them. Unfortunately, according to the recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, companies have dramatically cut training programs for new employees. Invest in a quality coaching time, even if that strains your time and resources.

Become acquainted with the technology, systems and tools they use and provide them with enough resources they can learn from. This way you will show them how important it is to be a part of a stellar working team that will keep the processes running flawlessly and you will entice them to be at their best and, ultimately, live up to the quality standards.

At the end of the day, it’s all about taking responsibility and owning the mistake. Steve Tobak at Inc. admires the wisdom behind the words uttered by a jazz master Miles Davis: “When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad.” Making mistakes is a never-ending process of learning that changes our mindset. It helps us reach our full potential and steer ourselves onto the path of great success.


Maja Mrsic is a professional content writer and editor at Active Collab. After finishing her Master’s Degree in English Studies, she pursued a career in content and technical writing in digital marketing.