When did you last make a mistake?

12 Nov 2018

When did you last make a mistake?

When was the last time you made a mistake? When was the last time you felt that you'd failed? When was the last time that a colleague or your leader made you feel that you were a failure?

How did that make you feel? Really, how did you feel about it?

As humans, we are driven by our feelings and emotions, which are then played out in our behaviour and attitude towards situations. Emotions drive our attitude towards the people we work with, the customers we provide service to and the organisation for which we work.

Imagine this situation; you work in a trendy city centre hotel restaurant. It's a typical Saturday, which means that the restaurant has been busy all day, with you turning over tables as guests come and go. You're a table server and another of your colleagues has been designated as the meet & greet person for the shift; in other words, the person who welcomes guests into the restaurant, checks reservations, makes up bills and processes payments. Later in the evening, your manager tells you that one of the tables you were talking to has left without paying and tells you in no uncertain terms, because you served them, it must be your fault.

A familiar scenario for anyone who has spent any time working in Hospitality. I’ve certainly had the situation of guests leaving without having paid their bill. As a manager, I guess your immediate thought is likely to be how you are going to reconcile your takings for the day and hopefully stop your own boss finding out and thereby, avoid the inevitable awkward conversation of how you let it happen.

Let us take a deeper look at this scenario and at the impact of the behaviours on display here.

Clearly there has been a failure, but has that been an error by an individual, or a breakdown of a flawed process? In our scenario, the manager has been quick to judge and start throwing out the blame – “it is YOUR fault this happened!”

  • What impact do you think that statement had on the individual staff members involved?
  • How do you think it made them feel emotionally?
  • What impact do you think that moment had on their motivation for the rest of the shift?
  • What longer term impact could that comment have on the individual’s attitude towards their work and the organisation for which they work?

Sadly, this isn’t a hypothetical scenario; it happened recently and the person concerned, let’s call him John, is a family friend. My gift to you today is that I can share with you an insight as to how John actually felt as a result.

  • The impact on John was to completely deflate his enthusiasm, half way through a busy shift. John openly admitted that his attitude changed at this moment as he felt upset and aggrieved that he’d been unfairly blamed for an error he hadn’t made.
  • John accepted that his attitude for the remainder of the shift was altered and he basically couldn’t get away from work quickly enough that night.
  • John was particularly offended that the root cause of the problem; a breakdown of the reservation & billing procedures, had been overlooked in the haste to, as he perceived it, apportion blame to someone.
  • John now felt uncomfortable about taking on new tasks as he was nervous about being blamed for making further mistakes.

It became apparent that John’s bad shift had resulted from a combination of several factors; staff shortage, an inaccurate forecast of the day’s business levels, staff having to multi task under pressure and take on unfamiliar tasks. However, it was ultimately, a procedural shortcoming that resulted in those guests being able to leave without making payment.

Has the organisation learned that lesson? Unfortunately, no and it would be fair to observe that multiple failures, or moreover, missed opportunities to learn had occurred:

As a business coach & trainer, we encourage clients reflects that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. We encourage new leaders to allow their teams to make mistakes and to seize the learning opportunities. As humans, our greatest learnings come from when we make mistakes. As a toddler, did you give up trying to walk when you fell over? No, you learned from your errors and you adapted, such that over time you became able to walk properly.

When it comes to allowing our teams to make mistakes, as a good friend and colleague is known to say “has anyone died? Has the world stopped turning?” If your answer to these questions is no, then have the courage to allow your people to make non-critical mistakes, providing that you give them the gift of learning from that mistake and letting them grow as an individual.

As for John, nobody died and his world didn’t stop turning, but his world now turns for a different employer where John feels the culture is not blame orientated and more focused upon collective learning & development.