Why do I keep making mistakes at work? Is it normal to make mistakes at work? These are the types of questions that hundreds of people ask Google every month.
To be clear, the answer is yes - it is normal to make mistakes at work. At the end of the day, you’re only human, and mistakes happen, no matter how well-intentioned you may be.
It becomes problematic when you keep messing up at work without investigating why it’s happening or doing something about it. It’s even worse if you make a mistake at work and then attempt to hide it from your leader, downplay it, or place the blame on someone else.
If you’ve fallen into a pattern of making mistakes and are keen to break them, continue reading to learn what actions you can take to recover.
What To Do When You Keep Making Mistakes at Work
- Investigate your mistake
- Create an action plan
- Seek out constructive feedback
- Ask for help as needed
1. Investigate your mistake
No one wants to relive their mistakes but doing so is important, especially if you want to uncover how to stop making the same mistakes. As this report notes, human errors and mistakes are most commonly influenced by environmental factors (physical, organizational, personal), intrinsic errors (selection of individuals, training, experience), and stress factors (personal and circumstantial). So, as you investigate mistakes, ask yourself the following questions. It will not only encourage you to look at the mistake from every angle but also allow you to identify commonalities that you can fix.
- Where were you working at the time? Did your workspace allow you to focus?
- Was there a defined process? Did you follow it? If not, why didn’t you?
- Did you have or seek out the training you needed? Were there any tools or resources you should have had access to or asked for access to?
- Were your instructions clear? If not, did you ask and receive answers to any questions you had?
- Did you seek input, guidance, or feedback from your leader or peers as needed or defined? If you were uncomfortable or unsure, did you try to “go it alone” or did you ask for help?
- Did something happen in your personal life that was causing you stress or leading you to be distracted at the time of the mistake? How about at work?
2. Create an action plan
The truth is you are never going to eliminate mistakes entirely. According to a report from Lifetime Reliability, the typical failure rates in businesses using common work practices range from 10 to 30 human errors per 100 opportunities. The best performance possible in well-managed workplaces using normal quality management methods is failure rates of 5 to 10 human errors in every 100 opportunities.
Despite the fact that mistakes will happen, if you keep making the same mistake, you need an action plan to eliminate it. Your action plan should include the following:
- Identifying the mistake(s)
- What you will do differently to avoid the mistake(s) - this could include a new process, coaching, or additional oversight
- Meeting with your boss to own up to the mistake and present your plan to overcome mistakes at work in the future
3. Seek out Constructive Feedback
Once you feel you have a decent understanding of why the mistakes occurred and have drafted a plan of action to avoid repeating them, it’s time to seek constructive feedback from your leaders and peers. Present why you've made mistakes at work and how you plan to overcome them.
Do they agree with your assessment of why the mistake happened? Do they have another perspective? Do they have any recommendations or ideas you didn’t think of on how to overcome the mistake? This is a very important step in breaking a pattern of repeated mistakes as it shows those around you that you are taking accountability for the past and are committed to doing better in the future.
4. Ask for Help As Needed
While some mistakes are entirely your own to fix, others require action, support, or resources from those around you, like your boss or peers. For example, you may need your boss's time and energy to give you the approval to change a process, while in a different scenario, you may simply need a colleague to help hold you accountable. This is not about making other people responsible for fixing your mistake but rather about ensuring your action plan has the intended impact.
What To Do When You Make A Mistake: A Real-Life Example
You are in charge of your company’s social media channels and repeatedly publish posts with spelling errors, broken links, and content that is disputed or corrected in the comment section. Customers and company leaders are beginning to take notice, and you fear it could cost you your job.
Step 1 - Investigate the Mistake: The company is relatively new to social media, which means there are very few, if any, processes written. While you were uncomfortable creating a post without your leader's approval, you did it, as no one said any differently.
Create an Action Plan to Prevent the Mistake From Happening Again: To break the frequency and severity of your mistakes, your action plan consists of:
- Downloading a digital writing tool that detects spelling, punctuation, and other common errors, such as Grammarly or Ginger, and use it on every social post
- A new process of sending the social post to your leader at least 48 hours before publication to approve the content and double-check its functionality.
- Removing distractions such as turning off notifications for emails, instant messages, texts, and Zoom calls, so you do not get sidetracked or attempt to multitask while posting on social media.
- Using a process management tool, such as ClickUp, to create a checklist that documents these actions. Not only will this ensure you and your leader have proof of due diligence if a problem occurs, but it will allow the process to be passed on as the team grows or changes.
No one wants to say, "I made a mistake." However, it isn't the mistake itself that will be remembered in the long run, it will be your willingness to fix them and break the pattern. That’s because doing so shows a great deal of accountability and effort. Of course, if you are willing to investigate your mistakes, formulate an action plan, get feedback, and seek support, you are well on your way to breaking the pattern and getting your performance back on track.