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Understanding the Root Cause of Errors at Work: 5 Steps That Help Managers Use Mistakes to Address and Combat Future Issues

3 Mins read

Have your employees ever made a mistake at work? If so, they’re not alone. A study of 2,000 US employees finds that one in five believe they have made a critical error on the job. Their errors include relatable blunders — such as responding “reply all” to a private email, leaving critical documents on the desk, or saying something sensitive before muting or properly ending a work call.

Research tells us that, on average, people make 3 to 6 errors an hour — which is 50 errors each day. As a manager, you’ve doubtlessly been involved in many of these workplace errors. The bad news is that mistakes happen every day. The good news is that errors offer valuable learning opportunities for both employees and managers, if you can approach them correctly. Here are five tips that will help you use today’s blunders to address and combat tomorrow’s errors.

Step 1: Open discussions on the issue with empathy first

The first step to addressing errors at work is to lead with empathy. Empathy is not a feeling — it’s an action. It involves understanding another person’s perspectives and feelings, and responding accordingly.

When someone makes an error at work, ask what happened before reacting with criticism or punishment. Listen carefully to the story and resist the urge to interrupt with judgment or advice.

Empathy is the key to creating a culture of compassion and trust. When your employees feel valued and respected, they will also feel safe bringing problems to you and discussing them.

Step 2: Clearly define the pain points that caused the mistake

The second step in the process is to define the problem. Identifying the root cause of errors at work will make them easier to address and combat in the future. For example, if your team members make too many mistakes when filling out paperwork, they may not have enough time or resources to complete their tasks.

There can be multiple reasons why something goes wrong: lack of training, poor communication, and inadequate processes can all play a part. It is unlikely that you will identify every single cause for each mistake. Instead, look for emerging patterns and address areas where improvement is needed most urgently.

Once you’ve identified the issues, consider which solutions would most effectively address them. For example, if employees struggle with new procedures because they don’t see the benefit of following them, providing more training could solve the issue. If employees miss deadlines because they’re overwhelmed, offering additional resources might help alleviate some pressure.

Step 3: Turn the focus away from “you” and toward “we”

Now that you have identified the root cause of errors, it is important to determine how these errors are addressed in your organization. The most common way to handle the errors is through “you” conversations. In these conversations, managers blame employees for making mistakes and ask them to be more careful next time. These types of interactions are damaging because they make employees feel defensive and reduce the likelihood that they will improve their performance by learning from their mistakes.

Shifting your language from “you” to “we” creates the sense that everyone is on the same team and working toward a common goal. Instead of focusing on what happened, talk about how the team will prevent it from happening again in the future.

For example, rather than saying, “You did not contact the customer before the subscription expired,” you can ask, “What protocols would ensure that we reach out to customers more quickly in the future?”

Step 4: Remember that mistakes are lessons and opportunities

Mistakes should not be viewed only as failures. They are opportunities to learn and grow. To be better at what you do, you need to know what went wrong and why it happened in the first place. Mistakes are also valuable because they help us develop our skills, become more empathetic toward others, and become better equipped for future challenges.

Mistakes are part of life. They’re going to happen. If we approach them with a growth mindset, we can learn from them and become better at what we do.

Step 5: Offer solutions for the mistake moving forward

The fifth and final step in the process involves making a plan that addresses the issue in the future. When you are proactive, you no longer spend most of your time reacting to fires as each problem arises.

For example, if one person consistently makes mistakes in their work due to personal issues or health problems, offering remote work or flexible hours may prevent future errors. If several members within a department experience similar problems despite following established protocols, then instituting new processes may improve compliance and avoid future mistakes.

You may proactively stave off future mistakes by offering needed resources, mentorship opportunities, or improved onboarding experiences. The best way to combat tomorrow’s mistakes is to understand the root cause of today’s errors. Once you know what is causing your employees’ mistakes, you can take measures to address the issue.

The key to overcoming errors at work is a culture of compassion, where people can share without fear of judgment or blame. When you lead with empathy, define the pain points, use “we” language, and view mistakes as opportunities for future growth, employees don’t feel ashamed or alienated. They learn from the experience and are less likely to make similar errors in the future. Reevaluating the way you handle mistakes is a win-win for everyone involved.

Craig Goodliffe is the Founder and CEO at Cyberbacker.

Errors stock image by Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

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