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Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone knows how to turn them into learning opportunities. Rather than fall back on the “forgive and forget” or harsh punishment choices, it’s better to analyze mistakes to get the details. This helps me and my team decide how to proceed.
First, it is essential to classify the error. Was it a random, one-time mistake? Or is it a repetitive behavior that points to an underlying problem?
It is also important to remember that not all mistakes can be forgiven, even if they are learning experiences. In these cases I call that a fatal error. We took a page from Netflix HR’s book and generally follow a philosophy of “Hire, reward and tolerate only fully formed adults†
Understanding how to constructively interact with the offending employee isn’t always obvious or easy, but I treat employees as responsible, intelligent team members — and I expect the same courtesy. When mistakes are made, we look at them rationally, together. I live by a motto: “Employees join companies, but they leave managers.”
When it comes to dealing with mistakes or letting people go, I never want any company of mine to be known for making the same terrible, heartless and ultimately fatal mistakes as xsolla and Bird† Even if you have to fire someone, treat them with the respect and kindness of a friend.
If you’re struggling to make a change in the way you approach conflict management in your business, here are a few ways to go about it.
1. Never start a conversation in anger
That is sensible for all areas of life, but useful as a manager. When we are caught off guard by a mistake, it is normal to lash out and not think before we speak. Don’t respond right away if you get an error or problem. Give your rational mind a moment to recover so that your conversation is productive.
Related: 5 Lessons You’ll Learn From Your Business Mistakes
2. Check yourself first
As a startup, I naturally tend to look at myself and our current processes first to see if the mistake could have been avoided by changing the way we do things.
For example, if a courier is late or makes a mistake with an order, I don’t automatically assume it’s the individual’s fault. Yes, they have to take responsibility for their actions, but it is helpful to analyze the error on a larger scale. Is there something in our process that caused this error? Are there things I can change about current workflows to prepare my employees for success? These are the things I hope to learn from mistakes.
3. Hire the right people from the start
Obviously, not every hiring decision can be perfect. Make sure your team is made up of people with the right mindset, especially around mistakes. Mistakes are a fact of life, so it’s important to hire people who are eager to learn from their mistakes (and everyone else’s).
4. Develop an action plan
After discussing the issue privately with your employee, end the conversation by working together on a plan for the future. What steps can each of you take to ensure that errors like this don’t happen again? It can be difficult to walk the thin line between understanding and kindness. I’d be happy to follow up on these conversations to gauge how they’re handling the plan we’ve put in place.
Related: Learning from Failures Makes Entrepreneurs Better Leaders
5. Lead by example
This one goes hand in hand with ‘check yourself first’. If your team thinks you’re a model of perfection, they won’t tell you when they’re screwing up.
Managers should not try to hide their mistakes from the employees, but rather reveal them and let others learn from them. I think it’s better to be open with my team about my mistakes and bad decisions. Maybe they learn from my mistakes, or maybe they don’t. Either way, they’ll know I made my own mistakes, so I won’t judge them harshly for admitting they make one too.
6. Teach your team they can screw up
To use a quote from one of my colleagues, “Smart people learn from the mistakes of others.” I was raised that way too, and while it helps to learn from other people’s mistakes, it also made me afraid to admit a mistake or acknowledge anything less than perfection. It imposes a mental block that keeps you from success.
The world has changed (thank goodness), and now venture capitalists barely glance at entrepreneurs who haven’t made a few blunders. The point here is that mistakes are natural and expected. As long as you master them and learn from them, they can really help you.
Related: How to Successfully Manage and Resolve Conflicts in Your Team
Two interesting things happen when your employees realize that a mistake won’t cost them their job: First, they’re more willing to “take the road less traveled” in finding solutions to problems. This is excellent for infusing energy and innovation into a small business. Second, your team will take your wisdom to heart. Even if they move on to another job, they’ll instantly remember your mistakes handling lessons.
Show your team what it means to have a steady hand and an optimistic, problem-solving spirit when making mistakes, and they will reward you with hard work, loyalty and creativity.