Is it normal to make mistakes at work? This is a question hundreds of people type into 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 though when you keep making mistakes 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, then continue reading to learn what actions you can take to recover.
Take a deep dive into your mistakes
No one really wants to relive their mistakes but doing so is important, especially if your mistakes are reoccurring. 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 types of questions. It will not only encourage you to look at the mistake from every angle but it will also allow you to identify commonalities that you can then 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?
Formulate an action plan or process for yourself
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.
A Real-Life Example
An employee in charge of a company’s social media channels repeatedly publishes 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 the employee fears they may lose their job.
What the Investigation Revealed
The company is relatively new to social media, which means there are very few if any, processes were written. While the employee was uncomfortable creating a post without their leader's approval, they did it anyway as no one said they should do it any differently.
The Plan of Action
To break the frequency and severity of the employee’s mistakes, they plan to:
Ask your leader and peers for 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 going forward, it’s time to seek constructive feedback from your leaders and peers as appropriate. Present them what you’ve found and what you intend to do about it. Do they agree? Do they have another perspective? Do they have any recommendations or ideas you didn’t think of? This is a very important step in the process of 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.
Seek support as needed
While there are some mistakes that are entirely your own to fix, there are others that require action, support, or resources from those around you like your boss or peers. In which case, stand up for yourself by asking for help as needed. In some cases, you may need your boss's time and energy to give you approval, while in others you simply need a colleague to help hold you accountable. This is not about making other people responsible for fixing your mistake, but rather it’s about ensuring your plan of action has the intended impact.
No one wants to make mistakes. Then again, of those who make repeated mistakes, not everyone is willing to fix them and break the pattern. That’s because doing so takes 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, then you are well on your way to breaking the pattern and getting your performance back on track.
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