In business as in life, mistakes are inevitable. As a small business owner, how should you deal with staff mistakes, and how can you place an emphasis on learning for the future?
There are things in business you cannot avoid, and one of them is mistakes. Whether your own or those of staff or clients, mistakes can range from minor to substantial, and their impact can be far-reaching. But how should you as a small business owner react when they occur? Most importantly, how can you ensure that everyone learns from them?
Reacting to staff errors
When responsibility is assigned to someone else, there is always the possibility that errors will occur. The first thing to consider when errors are made by staff is how you are going to react. Ask yourself: if you had been the one who made the mistake, how would you feel? Would you blame external circumstances or would you internalise the blame?
A good starting point is to always approach failures as an opportunity to learn, and to always try to attack the problem rather than the person. The last thing you want is for your staff to be too afraid to alert you to the errors they have made. It’s always better to know what is happening in your business, good or bad.
Attack the problem not the person
We’re all human, and anger is a natural reaction to negative events. However, when we are angry, our ability to solve problems is diminished. When mistakes are made, give yourself some time to cool off and then put all your attention into dealing with the problem.
A useful attitude to have when tackling staff mistakes is that, as the business owner, staff failures are your failures as well. Ask yourself whether the instructions were given clearly enough. Was support sufficient? Are your expectations too high? When you are able to share the burden with your staff, you are better able to focus on fixing the problem.
Once resolved, move on
When you have successfully resolved a problem, the next task is to move on from it. While it may seem simple enough, the reality is that when someone makes a mistake, especially if it is a repeated or particularly damaging mistake, doubt and blame can linger long after the practical factors have been dealt with. If you find yourself constantly pondering the mistake, or you find that you continue to bring it up when disagreements or unrelated issues arise, you may still be in need of a resolution.
Communication is the key, and openly discussing your concerns can often reveal information from your staff, such as contributing factors that you may not have considered.
When a problem is too big to overcome
If you find that you are not able to overcome an issue, do not pretend that you are. This is not only unfair to the staff member, but also potentially risky to your business, as it may mean retaining a staff member who you do not believe is capable of adequately carrying out their duties.
Sometimes it is better to recognise a bad investment and cut your losses. Keep in mind, however, that if you find history repeating itself, then other factors may be at play and in need of consideration. Above all, if an irreparable error does occur, aim to put as many safeguards in place to ensure it doesn’t reoccur in the future.
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This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Nick Petrovic is a registered psychologist and head of clinic at the Mind Profile Psychology Clinic and has more than 10 years' experience in the allied health and business. Nick has contributed to regular columns in more than a dozen business magazines and newspapers, advising on issues such as mental health, work related stress, strategic planning, business analysis and human resources.