What About Failure?

What do you do when someone makes a mistake? I was talking with my assistant yesterday about a decision he made as he wondered, "Did I just cost the church $300 by giving the wrong answer?"

No, he didn't, but it reminded me of mistakes I've made over the years. Some have been cheap, others have been very expensive. Some have been readily apparent (have you seen the "art wall" on the east side of our church building?) -- others have taken longer to realize (can you say "salt water reef aquarium"?).

When an employee makes a mistake, there are two ways to look at it.

  1. You could respond, "They made a mistake. It cost the company money. They are going to pay for it." Perhaps they financially have to reimburse the company, or you might try the humiliation route. A couple years ago when I went to our local Taco Bell, I noticed everyone had matching uniforms and hats, except one guy who was wearing a flourescent pink hat. When he turned around, I saw the words on the front: "I forgot my hat today." I'm sure his boss thought he was teaching him a lesson (yeah, like find a different boss).
  2. Or, if it was a $1,000 mistake, you could take the posture that you just spent $1,000 educating them. They just received $1,000 in training that they are sure to remember, perhaps better money spent than sending them to a conference. They are $1,000 smarter than they used to be.

PlanecrashThe cost of mistakes are relative though, aren't they. I wonder what happened to this aircraft mechanic when she accidentially hit a button in the cockpit and it sent the jet careening into two other aircraft, causing multi-millions in damage.

Two closing thoughts:

  • If someone keeps making the same mistake over and over, then it is obvious the education process isn't working. Free them to spend someone else's money making mistakes.

And secondly, I'm grateful both places I've worked (my entire adult life) I have been encouraged to risk, inspired to innovate, and have been given room to fail. It has cost those organizations a few bucks, but it has made me a much better leader--which ultimately makes the organization a better place.

Tim Stevens6 Comments