Allowing For Failure

July 10, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

Over the years as a manager, I have found that most people do not like to make mistakes or fail. Mistakes are inevitable; consequently, many people spend much of their time feeling down and subconsciously ridiculing themselves when they make mistakes. In regular, one-on-one meetings with members of my team, I often hear comments such as, “I can’t believe how I could have made such a mistake,” and, “Why me?” Unfortunately, many managers tend to corroborate team members’ claims of ineptitude instead of helping individuals learn from their mistakes. This situation tends to lead to low employee self-esteem and apathy.

In my experience, the manager’s first step to reversing employee apathy is learning to say ‘yes’ to many of the suggestions made by members of his or her team. The manager’s second step to reversing employee apathy is allowing his or her departmental members to make small mistakes and teaching them how to learn from these mistakes. After all, learning from our mistakes is essential to growth and self-development. It is all right to make small mistakes as long as a lesson is learned and the organization is not irreparably harmed. The manager can help team members overcome the anxiety associated with making some mistakes by publicly sharing his or her errors and the lessons learned.

Managers must also foster an environment in which team members feel it is all right to occasionally make mistakes. However, this must be done in such a way as to not encourage carelessness within the department. Managers should try the following:

  • Allow for small mistakes and be very supportive when they are made.
  • Help team members identify the cause of the mistake and provide them with constructive feedback to help prevent the mistake from happening again.
  • Be sure to privately point out when a mistake is made multiple times by the same individual. Work with the individual to understand why he or she is making the mistake and coach them in how to correct the problem. This will ensure that carelessness is not fostered. The manager should also ensure that he or she is not the cause of an employee’s repeated mistakes. For example, have the goals been clearly defined and communicated to the team member?
  • Provide recognition for those individuals who learn from their mistakes.

By following the above and fostering an environment in which small, non-repeated mistakes are allowed, the team can continue to expand its creative and productive paradigms. By implementing these fairly straightforward suggestions, I have found that individuals in my department are no longer limited by fears of repercussion if they make a small mistake. They can now freely pursue being the best that they can be. Allowing for mistakes can be an important impetus for sustained achievement in reversing employee apathy.

Dr. Milton Mattox is a senior-level business executive and technologist who has worked with some of America’s most acclaimed companies. An expert in software engineering, information technology, and quality process management, he continues to practice the process methodologies outlined in his new book, “RAIDers of the Lost Art: Reinventing the Art of Business Process Excellence,” to successfully increase return on investment. For more information, reference

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