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One way to combat mistakes is to create a culture of growth in your company. Do this by encouraging employees to share their knowledge and teach each other new skills. — Getty Images/Alex Potemkin

Regardless of how much you train and prepare your employees for their roles, mistakes are inevitable in the workplace — and without the proper precautions, those missteps can have costly consequences impacting your company's bottom line, reputation, and security. However, what’s most important is how you handle mistakes with employees and what preventative measures you can take to ensure they don’t happen again.

Here’s how to effectively handle employee mistakes.

Why employees make mistakes

Employees might make mistakes in the workplace for countless reasons, from being tired or working too quickly to feeling burned out or distracted to poor collaboration among the team. Whatever the root cause, when workers feel unsupported, overwhelmed, or as though they don’t have time for themselves, they are likely to fall under pressure and make mistakes.

According to Salesforce, 86% of employees and executives believe ineffective collaboration and communication is the primary cause of workplace failures. Consistent communication is a critical aspect of running a successful business; therefore, when communication breakdowns impact employees and they are left to fend for themselves, they’re likely to struggle.

[Read more: 6 Ways to Balance Managing Employees While Giving Them Freedom]

Why mistakes aren’t always a bad thing

Employee mistakes can be great learning experiences for both workers and employers, as they allow for reflection and analysis of what went wrong. This enables either the employee or the organization to adjust their approach moving forward, be it by reimagining new policies and processes or by retraining employees in a certain area.

Mistakes can also indicate that an employee is showing initiative and thinking outside of the box. When employees feel engaged, encouraged, and comfortable enough to try new things in the workplace, this leads to creative ideas and potential growth opportunities. In contrast, when employees feel stifled or disengaged from their workplace, they may not care to experiment and, instead, remain stagnant.

Any successful company is bound to see employee mistakes, and that’s OK, as long as you handle them properly.

As a leader, it’s essential to create a culture of growth and learning where it’s acceptable to make mistakes; otherwise, your company’s growth may halt. You can do this by:

  • Rewarding employees who share their expertise with others on the team, as doing so opens doors for more employee contributions and, ultimately, company growth.
  • Reframing mistakes as learning opportunities to motivate employees to keep pushing the envelope.
  • Providing patience to employees by cutting them slack and letting them explain themselves in a comfortable setting without placing blame.

[Read more: 5 Companies With Great Work Cultures and What You Can Learn from Them]

How to handle employee mistakes

Any successful company is bound to see employee mistakes, and that’s OK, as long as you handle them properly. Here’s what you should do if your employees make mistakes.

  • Consider the “5 Whys.” Look at the problem using the "5 Whys" technique, in which you define the problem in a statement and then repeatedly ask, “Why?” This technique allows you to quickly uncover the root of the problem by looking deeper into the situation and thinking it through based on facts. You should note that the “why” is never due to a person, but rather, what happened in the process.
  • Listen to the employee. Giving employees a chance to explain what happened provides a more comfortable working environment and helps employees feel less stressed over their mistakes. Rather than a confrontational approach that might add tension and demotivate employees from taking an innovative step in the future, this approach demonstrates compassion and facilitates open communication between employees and their supervisors to discuss mistakes constructively and healthily, getting to the resolution faster.
  • Work together to find a solution. Instead of looking to the past and focusing solely on the consequences of what went wrong, sit down with the employee to discuss what all parties can do to prevent the problem from happening again. By working together to come to a solution, you can thwart mistakes in a productive way that encourages employees and makes them feel heard rather than chastised.
  • Set parameters for chances. Determine whether this mistake was a one-time error or due to a performance gap that you need to address. If the mistake is a one-off incident, it may not be cause for concern; however, repeat offenders may require an employee performance improvement plan to get back on track. In extreme cases, boundaries may need to be set on how many chances an employee will have before considering termination — this should be communicated to the employee.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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