Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

“R” You Ready for Mistakes


Ah…mistakes – a very tricky area for managers to handle. The range of manager reactions runs the gamut from instantaneous combustion to a passive shoulder shrug. Not surprisingly, a lot of that hot air about "empowerment" wafting around the upper echelons of the organization, dissipates immediately when something major goes wrong! The manager and colleague dash for the exits, before any of the debris attaches itself to the persons of those in close proximity, is contrasted by the arrival of corporate death squads to locate the guilty.

Here are some cascading "R" solutions to provide some thinking about mistake wrangling.


A novel idea for some folk who can be quick off the mark when reacting, but start with the establishing the actual facts, before the guilty are set free and the innocent punished. Even better, try and look behind the facts, to the motivations in play. The gap analysis starts with the hypothesis that this person is worth saving. This hypothesis having been established, it is then tested against each of the facts of the situation, as they emerge. Japan is a master class in hiding problems, denying responsibility and ducking for cover. Expect you will have to dig hard to find out what really happened and why.


Hopefully there is an existing reservoir of good will and mutual trust built on fair treatment over a long period of time, between the person in question and their manager. What's that you say? You don’t have any of these items in place with your current team member in question! Well that will need a separate article in its own right, to thrash that one out. For the rest of you, try putting the guilty party at ease and do your best to reduce their anxiety.

Begin with honest appreciation, supported by evidence. Fake smiles, insipid false praise, the dagger "clothed" are all to be avoided. Instead, look for the aspects of the individual’s work behaviour that has been observed, that warrants appreciation. Start searching for the "glass half full" bits associated with this team member. After all none of us are 100% perfect nor 100% evil (well very few are 100% evil).

Reference the Mistake or Issue

Focus on the problem, not the person – play the ball not the player, to use a sporting analogy. In your discussions try using "we" rather than "you" and constantly depersonalize the problem. You might recall it wasn’t "Houston, you have a problem"!

Try phrases such as "We have to find ways to fix this", "We all need to uncover the underlying issues", "We need complete transparency and honesty to resolve this completely".

The most effective perspective is that the action was wrong, not the person who made a mistake. Let them explain what happened. At this stage we are gathering facts and information. Identify what needs to be fixed immediately and for the future. Really focus and listen carefully for acceptance of responsibility. This will completely determine the next steps. By the way keep calm as the sequence leading up to the train wreck unravels before you eyes.

Over the years, dealing with various staff compliance violations, my biggest insight was early admission and acceptance of the problem, led to the minimum bloodshed. Efforts to hide the error seem to miraculously puff the problem up to enormous proportions. In short order, the whole thing then blows up and the person is no longer recoverable.

Restore Performance

Reduce or eliminate the consequences of the error, resolve to try to eliminate a reappearance, and restore the person back to performing again. If the team member accepts responsibility we go into effective questioning (not interrogation), active listening, and personal coaching. Seek means to encourage them to suggest ways to fix the problem. It is critical to get them involved in the decision-making process, so that we can re-install ownership.

On the other hand, for the employee who doesn’t take responsibility, the performance expectations of the manager need to be re-stated. Apply coaching on the importance of responsibility, moving toward the full restoration of their accountability for the mistake.


Mistakes, errors, slip-ups, failings etc., negatively affect our level of confidence. Going forward, their "challenge" spirit to embrace the "new and different" sails right out the window. As managers, we need to keep the organisation surging ahead and so we need to get this team member back on track.

Assure them of the importance of the role they are playing and their value to the organisation. Clear expectations and clear communication of our belief that they can still play an important role need to be explained. They have to be assured that the organisation is behind them and will continue to provide a career path for them. Expect this will be a difficult sell, because cynicism rules!


It is not simply a matter of retaining the person on the payroll. Retain their motivation and commitment . Be aware of the influence this has on the rest of the team. Everyone is observing and thinking "but for good fortune there go

I". They want to see what the manager does and know what they can expect if it ever happens to them. Never forget you are managing Japan’s Olympic level representatives in "boss watching". Your every nuance is read far and wide (and usually misinterpreted!).

If you hit heavy resistance, particularly refusal to take responsibility or permanent and constant denial, then move to Plan B directly below.


Restate the facts, stress the seriousness of the mistake, re-visit the policy of the organisation, and recount the remedy to the issue. At this point they are given a fresh chance to reflect, correct and move forward.


If that didn’t work out too well and they are still not taking responsibility, then the situation is going into a possible death spiral. Hold a more formal discussion, clearly documented with the content recorded in their file.


If Plan B above hasn’t worked, and there is no progress on the accountability front, then move to Plan C. If your organization is big enough and flexible enough, this may mean a reassignment to another part of the company. If not, then it could require removal of the person from the firm.

In Japan, this is a rocky road that is best dealt with generously, to have a smooth transition out of the company. If you can’t reach an amicable agreement that allows them to leave of their own accord, and you have the means, pay the money!

The collateral damage will be less, the time involved will be less, your lawyers won’t be buying that charming villa near Firenze on the proceeds and the wear and tear will be a lot less on everyone (especially you!).

If you don’t have the money, good luck, you are entering a war zone called the Japanese legal system, where there will be casualties on both sides. No "R" solution available for that baby.


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