When you see an employee do something wrong, your instinct most likely is to call it out and show how to do it better.
And unless the employee has done something egregiously offensive, pointing out the mistake can turn into a good coaching opportunity.
But if it’s not done right, it can demoralize the employee and usually won’t lead to a better outcome. Worse, it could work against you.
So deftly correcting employees requires a little bit of subtlety.
Here are six tips on how successful managers pull it off:
1) Strike A Balanced Approach
It’s likely that the mistake the employee made isn’t catastrophic – so don’t react as if it were. Most screw-ups are fixable – even if a lot of fixing is required.
Make sure the employee understands that. “When I know something needs to be corrected, I take a moment to gather my thoughts on exactly what went wrong and what needs to change,” says Kevin Pitts, President & Publisher of the Charlotte (NC) Business Journal, and an American Management Association conference presenter.
2) Resist The Urge To Say ‘I’m Right, You’re Wrong’
The employee knows this anyway, so there’s no need to emphasize it. And regardless, it’s not the point – correcting the problem is.
Not to mention, blowing up at them won’t help them feel safe to tell you the next time they blunder.
If the focus is on the employee rather than the problem, it gets personal! Even if employees are willing to accept a reprimand, putting them down corners them in defense mode, which then makes it hard to respond to feedback. This is critical if you need some drastic change in behavior; employees might be less willing to comply because of the bad taste you left them with.
3) Correct The Employee In Private
When you need to correct an employee for an honest mistake, it’s appropriate to do the personal correcting in private.
Once you call out an employee publicly for a mistake he or she has made, you run the risk of dismantling the culture of trust between you and your employees, says Mary Jo Asmus, a former Fortune 100 executive and owner of executive coaching firm Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. And it could take a long time to re-earn that trust.
“And don’t forget to point out the things [the employee is] doing well,” she says. “People respond positively to that, even if you have to couple it with a few corrections.”
4) Understand Why The Mistake Was Made
When someone makes a mistake, listen to their explanations with an open mind. Showing genuine interest in what went wrong gets employees to be honest rather than offer lame excuses or point fingers.
This is important because you might hear something you didn’t expect. Your employee might take responsibility, but then let you know he felt he wasn’t properly trained to do the task in the first place – which isn’t his fault. The cause could be something you missed, so it’s key to be open to that possibility.
Listening and asking questions also shows respect. It gives employees the impression that you don’t think they’re stupid because they did something wrong. It’ll keep them open to learning more so they can avoid similar mistakes in the future.
5) Always Get The Employee Involved In The Fix
Pull the employee aside and ask two questions: “What went right? How can we make it better?” says Pitts. “If he or she identifies good solutions … great, then we’re done! If not, I lay out what could’ve gone better and ask, ‘What do you think?’,” he adds.
That gives the employee a chance to be a big part of the fix, which is necessary if he or she is to be properly coached to do the job in the future.
Being open communicates that you’re confident enough in your leadership to let employees do the fixing when they can. And understanding how they’d approach problems is vital for developing the right solutions and inspiring change.
6) Reframe The Mistake In A Teachable Moment
Strive to make the mistake a learning experience. The next time your team gets together, use some subtle maneuvers to point out the mistake, just in case your other employees might be doing the same thing.
But don’t name names if you don’t need to. Keep it to discussing how the mistake was made and how it was resolved so that your entire team can understand the correction.
Do you have a particular technique you use when correcting employees? Share in our comments section.
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