Making Mistakes at Work: How to Recover, Learn, and Move On
In today’s world of cancel culture, I worry how the fear of making mistakes at work may affect entry-level employees. Will they take risks, bring new ideas, and make suggestions? Or will the fear of being “canceled” crush their creativity and imagination?
Everything is new in your first job. Sometimes making mistakes at work is the best way to learn. It’s ok as long as you learn the lesson and make changes to avoid repeating the error in the future.
Early in my career, I was managing a company-wide direct mail campaign on behalf of the field marketers. The campaign launched several weeks late because I was not assertive enough with the field marketing leaders to submit their offers and approve the mail pieces. When the CEO saw a lag in the new customer numbers, everyone pointed to me and my campaign. I thought I would be fired.
Luckily, I was not fired but I held myself accountable. I learned from my mistakes, took training on project management, and figured out how to be more assertive so I never missed a deadline again.
What to do When You Make a Mistake at Work
Own up to it. You have to hold yourself accountable and take responsibility for the mistake. Whether it’s a small error like a typo in a social media post or a larger error like missing a deadline, you have to own it. Apologize sincerely.
Show remorse. As a manager, I need to see some level of regret for the mistake so I know you are engaged and that you care about the quality of your work. On the other hand, I don’t need to see tears. Work should not make you cry, nor should your manager.
Figure out what happened. Did you catch the error or did your boss? Or your boss’s boss? How do you check your work? Were you multitasking or distracted? Maybe you need to turn off the podcast while you work. Or listen to instrumental music instead. Did you follow the instructions or the right process? Or, in my case, were you assertive enough?
Fix it. If it’s a small typo, correct it. If you forgot a task, finish it. If you made the wrong decision during a project, you may need to ask for help to reset or pivot.
Create a new process. The idea is to avoid making the same mistake in the future. Create a checklist for the task. Ask your co-workers for help or talk to your supervisor.
Take training. If your company offers access to training like our Business Skills library, look for courses that may help you avoid making the same mistake in the future. Topics might include:
- Time management
- Project management
- Assertive communication
- Business math
Offering a full library of training videos and encouraging self-directed learning can help your organization recover from mistakes or avoid them in the future. Employees at all levels can benefit from this access. Sign up for a free trial of our HSI LMS to access our full Business Skills and Workplace Compliance libraries.
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