Saturday, October 24, 2009

Handling Employee Mistakes

Occasionally an employee will perform a task incorrectly or just plain blow it. How you address it has a great impact on the confidence of employees.

Show respects for the person, give them the benefit of the doubt and do not punish for making mistakes. To keep employees morale high you must view mistakes as a part of the learning experience and the continuous performance improvement process. Performance feedback is to be frequently given to employees in order to inspire the habit of being successful, both in the form of affirmation of a job well done and feedback on mistakes. By informing employees right when mistakes are made, the performance improvement process is started.

Never correct employees in front of others. “Praise in public, criticize in private,” the old credo goes—it still has a lot of management truth in it. Even when you talk to an employee in private about an error, the function is to train that person to recognize the nature of the problem so as not to make the same error again.

A supervisor’s attitude about errors will speak louder to an employee than the words used. Statements must be directed toward correcting the misunderstanding that led to the error and not toward personal judgment. The supervisor should use best efforts to never say or do anything that will make the employee feel inadequate. The objective is to build confidence and continuously improve overall employee performance, not destroy it.

Here are a few key definitions:

·Continuous Improvement is defined as an ongoing initiative embraced by all employees to improve overall company performance by reducing errors and mistakes.

·A Corrective Action is any conversation between a supervisor and an employee during which the supervisor is informing the employee of a Mistake or that the employee’s performance is below the supervisor’s expectitions.

·A Mistake is defined as any act or behavior that does not conform to expected performance. For an act to be considered a Mistake it must meet all of the following tests: (A) The employee must have been informed of the expected behavior or if not informed, the expected behavior must be an established norm and typically accepted or generally understood by persons holding a similar position. For example, if an administrative person says to her supervisor “Yes, I left my work area a mess, but you never told me to keep it clean.” This example, would qualify as a Mistake because keeping a clean work area is generally understood expectation. (B) The act or behavior was observed and reported by a manager, supervisor or an appointed work team or project leader, or was observed and reported by more than one peer or subordinate. (C) The employee’s direct supervisor or the direct supervisor’s supervisor believes the reported observation is credible.

·Expected Performance is defined as acting, behaving and doing assigned work in accordance with company policy, published procedures, written or verbal work instructions from managers, supervisors, appointed project leaders, or team leaders.

·Negative Attitude, Inappropriate Behavior, and Lack of Teamwork, have the same meaning and are considered Mistakes in this context.

It is critical to not to react to employee mistakes when you are emotionally upset or angry. Cool down and then address the issue:
1. Establish a place and time to talk with the employee about the Mistake.
2. Address the Mistake as soon as possible after its observation or report, even if it is in-convenient for you. Employees are your most valuable resource and their performance feedback should be given high priority.
3. Very simple Mistakes should be addressed at the work station so long as others can’t hear what is being discussed. Otherwise a supervisor might say: “Let’s get a cup of coffee and talk” or “please join me in my office in 15 minutes”.

Starter: You might say, “I know you want to always do the best work and be a team player. Everyone makes mistakes and I would like to discuss one you have made. Before we get into the details, please understand, I am committed to helping you succeed.
How do you feel things are going?”
Discussion: Encourage the person to talk while be supportive whenever possible. Reinforce the positives performance that the employee mentions with strong confirmation. It is likely the person will already know the Mistake made and mention it. If so, simply confirm it and move to get agreement on the expected performance. If not, let the employee talk as long as they want and then when they are done address the specifics of the Mistake with them in a matter of fact calm tone of voice.
In the event the employee denies the mistakes and insists all their work meets or exceeds standards, it is best to say, “That’s an interesting observation, my observation indicates that some of your work is not up to the standards we’ve set. Why do you suppose my information is different from yours?” This comment is intended to promote supervisor/subordinate collaboration in order to agree on what the supervisor and subordinate will do in the future to prevent the mistake and improve performance.

It is important to keep a record of all Corrective Actions, for legal reasons: For minor mistakes a supervisor should make a note to file or record the discussion in his/her journal. For other than minor mistakes, second time or multiple mistakes the supervisor should provide the employee in writing. An e-mail or memo. A copy should be placed in the employees personnel file.

Leading and motivating employees is always a challenge. By following these simple principles, a manager will have gone a long way toward winning the respect and support of her employees.