"I always try to go hard on the issue and soft on the person." ~ Henry Cloud

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” ~Steve Jobs

There is a big difference between calling out a mistake to kick your employee’s butt into gear, and kicking it so hard that they never want to come out and play anymore. What you are looking for is an environment of accountability and issue solving, not an environment of fear. Too often when leaders decide to give negative feedback, they are at the "end of their rope" and they react in a reflexive and emotional which can lead to the punishment being too harsh. When that happens it can lead to your staff wasting time trying to hide mistakes to avoid punishment instead of fixing them. It also leads to an overall environment of fear, and senior management being kept in the dark about issues instead of being able to address them.

So how do you stay firm about expectations and performance, yet instill an environment of openness:

  • Clear expectations – The most common area where leaders fail in this area is at the start when the task or duty was assigned. You need to let your team know when you ask for something or start an initiative what the timeline is and the expectations of the outcome. This helps with accountability when done consistently and makes any discussion of shortcoming easier since you both have a clear understanding of what was asked.
  • Don’t just identify the mistakes, help with the solution (even if it is just offering your support) – Poor leaders leave the team member to find their own way out of issues or strip them of duties when they fail. It’s important to get back on track so that the team member can be focused on solutions instead of dwelling on the failure. The way to do this is to immediately assign them something to do and help them if necessary. This can be fixing the shortfall, another chance at the task, or something completely different. This also reassures them that you still have faith in them to complete/fix what they started.
  • Get all of the info BEFORE you fly off of the handle – Ensure that you are directing your ire at the right person and for the right reason. You have to do your homework before giving negative feedback. There are many times when you may find that the expectations were met, but the results weren't what was expected. Too often we  jump to conclusions or cut our employees off, only to find out later we misdirected our focus.
  • Ensure that the penalty for hiding a mistake is much worse than bringing it forward – This is essential and one of the few times I recommend going hard on someone. It is imperative that issues are brought forward so that the entire team can address them before they become a bigger issue.
  • Don’t accept excuses (but don’t ignore them, there is often some truth about an obstacle in them) - Remember that you pay your people to anticipate problems, so usually they should see it coming and they should adjust or ask for assistance.

There are plenty of times where you need to be VERY firm (repeated mistakes, safety issues, legal violations, etc), but it is important that you do not create an environment where nobody is allowed to make a mistake, because the best way to avoid mistakes is TO DO NOTHING. And that is a recipe for your business going out of business!

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