Making mistakes at work – it doesn’t have to be all bad.


Good or Bad - Mistakes will happen; learn from them don't punish them.

Minor mistakes in the workplace can be something such as overwriting a file that does not affect others but wasted your time rebuilding; major mistakes are those that affect others or the bottom-line, such as overwriting the only copy of a customer database.

You have heard of the saying “Failure is not an option.” Well guess what, no matter how many times you repeat this adage, failure will always remain as an option. Trying to prevent a mistake will only increase your chance of making a mistake.

  • People who work under pressure to be successful and not make a mistake are less effective
  • People will resist reporting mistakes or bad news sooner
  • People will turn a blind eye to signs of trouble, hoping someone else will notice it.

Huge amounts of time and energy can be wasted in organizations on explaining why the mistakes that do happen are not my fault. This is pointless.

The repercussion of the mistake depends primarily on its impact on the bottom-line, the person’s track record of making mistakes, and the standing or designation of the person making the mistake. In many organizations, a mistake, big or small, is the starting point for a witch hunt.

  • Who is responsible?
  • How did they screw up?
  • What would be an appropriate punishment?

Rather than stigmatizing failure, we should acknowledge and even celebrate it.  When we can openly admit to screwing up without fear of reprisals, we’re more likely to fess up and learn from our mistakes.

Making a mistake means someone took a risk and it failed.  To punish this action means you just weaken the creativity and innovation in the company.

Suggestion on handling mistakes in the workplace

  • Acknowledge the mistake. Don’t make excuses and apologize immediately.
  • Own up to your responsibility.  Do blame others and don’t berate yourself.  However, listen and accept any criticism.
  • Use the mistake as a learning experience. You can even create a case study to prevent it from happening again.

Peter Drucker provocatively suggested that businesses should find all the employees who never make mistakes and fire them, because employees who never make mistakes never do anything interesting.

Please write a comment, I’d like to hear your take.

How does your workplace handle mistakes? Is it more like a celebration or a witch hunt? What has been your most spectacular screw-up at work so far? How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?



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