Merge's Blog

Strategy #9 in our series on employee development ideas: make it safe to make mistakes

In strategy #8 in our continuing series on employee development ideas, I said that a great way to help employees grow was to find opportunities to showcase their strengths.  While that may seem paradoxical, the logic is that when staff are given chance to shine, it boosts their self-confidence which then carries over into other more difficult situations.  So following from that is Strategy #9 in employee development ideas: make it safe to make mistakes.

Make it safe to make mistakes

The old adage – you polish your skills by doing it right, but you learn from making mistakes – fully applies.  Development and growth only happens when people are willing to push the envelope, to go beyond the tried-and-true, to step outside their comfort zones and do something different.  But that comes with risks – that things may go wrong, or not work out as hoped or intended.  The risk is that when people go beyond what is currently being done, they may make a mistake, or even, in the harsh light of hindsight, fail.  But if it becomes dangerous to make mistakes, employees simply will stop taking risks of any sort. And then, they will ultimately stop learning and growing.

So as a leader, be thoughtful about how you react when things go wrong.  Don’t berate or blame.  Don’t chastise or penalize.  Be deliberate about reviewing and learning from the mistake.  Because when you make it safe to make mistakes, what you’re really doing is creating an environment that supports employee growth and development.

When it comes to employee development ideas, this is one that can be powerfully effective; yet it is often viewed with skepticism by those who have been around for a while.  “Yeah sure, right, we’ve heard managers say it’s okay to make mistakes … until it actually happens.  Then those very managers are quick to finger-point and scapegoat,” is a common refrain.  So I’m curious to hear your experiences.  What have you observed?  Is this a realistic strategy or do you think it’s a pipedream?  I’d love to hear your perspectives.

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