3 Questions to Ask When an Employee Makes a Mistake

Try to avoid that initial reaction of frustration and think about what you should be doing on your end to set up employees for success

3 Questions to Ask When an Employee Makes a Mistake

Carter Harkins and Taylor Hill

No employee, no human is infallible. The best organizations understand this. They do their best to hire and train right so that mistakes are few and far between. Still, things can sometimes go wrong.

When they do, your first reaction may be to get frustrated and angry with the employee involved. But before you let your emotions get the best of you, step back and ask yourself these three questions: 

#1 Do you have a clear system around the process during which the mistake was made?

If you don’t have a system that shows exactly how to complete every single process and handle every situation employees might encounter on the job, there’s no one to get angry with but yourself.

After all, if there’s no proven, authorized, and clearly spelled out way of doing things or approaching a specific problem or situation, how can you expect employees to know exactly what to do when they’re exhausted, distracted, flustered, or faced with a challenge?

Employees without systems are employees who aren’t supported. They will make mistakes. If they’re uncertain, they will do whatever makes the most sense to them in the moment — which may not be what you’d have them do.

Systems or SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) are safeguards that every organization needs in place. But some utilities wait to create them. They think that when they’re small and only have a few employees, they don’t need them yet.

The trouble with this thinking is that you won’t have the time to create systems when you most need them. You have to create them before they’re truly needed.

When you’re in the middle of a growth spurt and hiring left and right, systems can speed up the training process. They can safeguard you against mistakes when you’re no longer the one (or only one) out in the field doing the work. That’s when you need systems the most and when you’ll have the least amount of time to commit to creating them.

If your answer to question No. 1 is “no,” now is the time to create systems around the processes employees need in order to do their jobs and handle situations they will encounter day to day. These systems can help prevent future mistakes. 

#2 Was the person involved trained on the system?

You can’t get mad when employees don’t do things “the way you’d have them done” if they weren’t trained on that way of doing things. Systems and SOPs only work if employees are trained on and familiar with them. 

Ask yourself, were you in a hurry when you hired this employee? Did you take the time to go through the SOPs you have in place and explain them? Did you ask questions to make sure they were understood by the employee?

Employees should know exactly how things should be done and why they should be done that way. If you don’t train employees on your systems or take the time to explain why you want them to do things a certain way, they’re not going to follow those systems and they will make mistakes from time to time.

It’s your responsibility to make sure each and every employee is trained on your systems and fully understands those systems and SOPs.

#3 Is there something about the system that needs to be fixed, tweaked, or revamped?

Before you rail on the employee, take a long, hard look at the system. Are there missing steps? Is there something that needs to be spelled out more clearly? Is the system outdated? Does it need to be reworked or scrapped and redone altogether?

If you had a system in place and the employee was trained on the system, then the issue may be with the system itself.

One thing that helps when you’re evaluating the system and looking for flaws or weaknesses is to ask the employee to walk you through the steps that were taken and the thinking behind their decisions when the mistake was made. Try to see where the system may have failed the employee, rather than zeroing in on the fact that the employee failed you.

And here’s the most important part: Ask the employee how and where they think the system could be improved. You may discover that something no longer makes sense or they don’t understand every step of the system. 

Once you have answers, implement the changes and retrain employees on the new way of doing things. Yes, it takes time, but that’s the only way to prevent repeat mistakes.

About the authors: Carter Harkins and Taylor Hill are the co-founders of Spark Marketer, a Nashville, Tennessee-based digital marketing company that works primarily with service businesses. They're also co-authors of the book, Blue Collar Proud: 10 Principles for Building a Kickass Business You Love. Both regularly speak at service industry trade shows and conferences across the nation. Visit www.sparkmarketer.com or www.facebook.com/sparkmarketer.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.