What to Do When an Employee Screws Up

What to Do When an Employee Screws Up

When it comes to employee behavior management, sometimes the lessons we learn from the neighborhood children are more valuable than any chapter in a Harvard textbook.

When an employee screws up, your tendency may be to chastise the employee, fix the problem yourself, and make a new policy so it won’t happen again.

While that may be necessary as part of the solution, you might be stifling your own employee’s development by stepping in too soon. And what message does that send to others about personal responsibility? Why not use this as an opportunity for them to learn from their own mistakes.


One summer day, I emerged from my house to find my asphalt driveway scribbled over with colored chalk. I followed a trail of chalk markings to a neighbor’s house where there were several children playing in the back yard.

I spoke with the mother and said I thought one or more of those children might have been the ones to decorate my driveway. She said she’d punish them for that but instead she agreed to support me in what I planned to do.

In the back yard, I asked the children responsible to come forward and a little boy was pointed out as being the ring-leader. He promised never to do it again. I explained that the mess had to be cleaned up and that it was his job to do it, since he made the mess. He meekly followed me to my place where I gave him a bucket of water and a scrub brush.

A few minutes later, there was a knock on my door. One of the other children had picked some wildflowers for me and she came to say that she too had chalked the driveway and wanted to help clean up. Out came another bucket and scrub brush. By the time the job was done, there were three of them at it, having a great time, laughing and talking as they worked. It reminded me of the white-washing of the fence in Tom Sawyer.


Holding them responsible allowed them to shed guilt and feel more confident. And taking responsibility showed respect for me on their part. The wrong was made right. And nobody had to hide from the “nice lady across the street” because they were afraid of being caught.

The perpetrators were four and five years old.

Although your employees are not children, wouldn’t it make more sense to hold them responsible to find and implement solutions when they make mistakes? These are the opportunities for developing your staff as a confident and productive team. And what’s not to like about that?!

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