Are Mistakes in Your Office Being Hidden?

Are you confident your direct reports would bring a major mistake to your attention?

A client of ours recently had to let an employee go because it was discovered that the employee had plugged in the wrong numbers on a contract and the mistake had the potential to cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the employee wasn’t fired because he made the mistake. He was fired because he discovered the mistake while it could have still been corrected, but instead hid it; hoping it would somehow go unnoticed.

Other than the incident that led to his termination, the employee at issue was a pretty stellar team member. He had worked for the company for nearly ten years and been promoted up through his department. His work had always been high quality and reliable. This was literally his first major mistake.

It turned out that the company had hired a new lead for this employee’s division a few years before. The supervisor had a habit of berating his direct reports for making mistakes, regularly threatening employees’ job security, and throwing team members under the bus during company-wide meetings. This senior manager is a great strategist, but his team operates in fear. It makes me wonder what he is afraid of.

There is no excuse for an employee who hides a critical mistake. But, firing that employee doesn’t solve the core problem in a situation like this. It doesn’t solve the problem of why the mistake was hidden. When a long term, reliable employee is scared to own up to an error that could be corrected, an employer needs to be asking why. And, sometimes, it’s the man or woman at the top who has to look in the mirror.

These days, a lot of people talk about building cultures that celebrate mistakes. However, when you own or run a company celebrating mistakes doesn’t come easily. To be honest, I’m not sure I can do it. I’m actually not even sure I want to. I definitely don’t think clients want their lawyer working in an environment that celebrates mistakes. But, I know I want a culture where people believe they have the opportunity to correct their mistakes. And, I want my team to go to each other or come to me when they need a sounding board to figure out the best solution.

When you berate your team or even quietly curse them for their mistakes, you create an environment where employees are more likely to hide errors rather than fix them. To create a culture thatcelebrates solutions, everyone needs to know that when they bring an error to your attention the focus will be on the fix rather than the problem.