How Managers Can Learn from Employees’ Mistakes

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An employee in my company totally blew it. The blowout was for something critical that improves how we connect with our clients – and for context – it was big. This time, it was truly his responsibility (sometimes it’s management’s because we do not clearly define performance expectations, or give the required level of authority, responsibility or support).

So I have some choices as a manager. I can get angry at a lapse of judgment by this employee (I’ll admit this is normally not my M.O., though some at the company would quickly choose this approach), or I can help him learn from his mistakes.

So many times in the workplace, we forget two very important things about our employees:

  • They are human.
  • We have a lot already invested in them.

Humanity is imperfect; smart people do dumb things. Great employees do average things — it comes with the territory. Also consider that depending on how long an employee has been with you, you may have a lot invested in this employee. This includes your time and effort in addition to your financial investment.

Create the teachable moment

So this employee mistake can turn into an incredibly powerful teachable moment – an on-the-spot, live learning event. We can use this event to reconnect with the employee through coaching and education to guide the employee to better performance. We can show our commitment to the employee, both in support and in additional training. We can activate a stronger emotional connection between the employee and management. We all can learn from this mistake.

I am also aware that part of this process rests with the employee and his acceptance of responsibility and intent to improve. A teachable event isn’t always a learning event – there must be a willing student. Though we, as management, may choose to educate and retrain, the employee must be willing to take ownership and to commit to improving.

Embrace mistakes

Sometimes the best learning happens when we make mistakes. They create situations that take learning out of the training manual and into real life. Many times our best lessons in the workplace (and in life) are the failures, not the successes. Mistakes are just another way that the workplace is our classroom – it gives us opportunities to hone our skills and focus on getting better.

More about employee training and retention on the Mindflash blog.

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Jay Forte is a nationally ranked thought leader and President of Humanetrics. Jay guides organizations – their leaders and managers – in how to attract, hire and retain today’s best talent. He is the author of “Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition” and “The Greatness Zone – Know Yourself, Find Your Fit, Transform The World.” Jay is a member of SHRM, ASTD, the National Speakers Association and the Florida Speakers Association. follow him on Twitter.