One of the questions I’m frequently asked is how do I deal with employee mistakes. People are often surprised with the answer I give them. Number one, don’t ask them why. For example, if an employee comes in late, don’t ask them why they are late. Really, you don’t care why.
What you are really worried about is what is going to happen in the future, so that’s where you should focus your energy. So the question, rather than saying why are you late, the question should be, “What are you going to do to make sure you aren’t late in the future?”
There are a couple of reasons why this is important. One is it’s focusing on a solution rather than an excuse. If you ask an employee, “Why are you late?” they are going to come up with an excuse. I woke up late, or I had car trouble, or it was traffic, or my alarm didn’t go off.
All of that is really focusing the employee’s energy on an excuse. And the excuse is pushing the blame off of from them and their own responsibility to show up for work on time, and blaming it on other things that supposedly may be out of their control. You really want the employee focused on what they are going to do in the future so this problem doesn’t occur.
When you ask them why, they think backwards. They are actually looking in to the past to come up with an excuse. When they come up with that excuse, there is a little switch that flips in their brain that says this is the reason why. Usually it’s not because I’m not as responsible as I need to be. It’s usually something that is out of their control.
You don’t want employees thinking that problems and mistakes they are making aren’t theirs. You want them to own those problems. The best way to do it is not to get them to pour energy into the past, and into an idea that they are going to create around an excuse, but to get them to focus on the future. What they are going to do in the future to prevent this problem from happening again.
It seems like a small distinction, but to ask an employee why after they’ve made a mistake is really putting their energy into the wrong place. Focusing on the solution and what they are going to do in the future is a good use of employee energy.