Inevitably, when you delegate to someone, at some point they'll make a mistake. Learn how to handle it productively.
- Sadly, it's inevitable, because we're human. At some point, you're going to delegate something and it's not going to go well. Mistakes will be made. So what do you do? Here's how to handle the situation productively. First, you have to ask yourself is this actually a mistake or is it just that you would've handled it differently? If they created the graphics in blue but you would've done them in green, that's not really a mistake unless they ignored your specific instructions. When we're first learning to delegate, sometimes differences of style might feel like a big deal.
It's wrong, who would've done it that way? But you have to take a step back and maybe even get the opinion of a trusted colleague. The issue might actually be more about you letting go of perfectionism rather than them making an egregious error, but let's assume for the sake of argument that it really was a mistake. If that's the case, the first order of business is understanding why it happened. Were your instructions unclear or ambiguous, or did they forget to do something or just make a stupid error because they were doing too many things at once? Once you understand the cause, you can move on to two critical next steps.
Number one, figuring out how to correct it. Number two, how to prevent something like that from happening in the future. For the former, how to fix it, you have a few options. One is to ignore it and move on. It might have been a legitimate mistake, but some just don't matter that much. You misspelled the CEO's name in a pamphlet. Okay, that's pretty mortifying, but it might not be worth paying to reprint another 5000 copies and ship them overnight to Texas. Another option that's sometimes relevant is having the employee apologize, which is exactly what DiGiorno Pizza did in 2014 when an employee handling social media advertised their pizza using a hashtag that was being used to discuss domestic violence prevention because he just wasn't paying attention.
The employee personally apologized to everyone who tweeted to their account. Sometimes you as the manager might also need to do the apologizing depending on the circumstance. If your ambiguity or failure to supervise closely enough caused the situation, it's on you. Finally, sometimes there's a tangible fix you can make, even if you or the company might have to take a hit. Maybe you have to fix a flight reservation and eat the change fee, for instance. Of course, that might take money and it'll certainly take time, the exact thing you were hoping to save by delegating, but consider it an incentive for the future to think through your processes so you reduce the likelihood that mistakes get made in the first place.
As for how to prevent the problem in the future, it's useful to ask your employee's opinion because if they're responsible, they've probably been thinking about that a lot and may have some useful ideas. Possibilities might include clarifying procedures, especially what to do in novel situations they haven't encountered before, putting in place structural changes like requiring approval from multiple people, or changing something to a different software system. The mistake is only worthless if you don't learn from it, so it's useful to leverage it as an opportunity to improve your systems and also to take a look at yourself as a supervisor.
What can you personally do better moving forward? Most important, you want to work to create an atmosphere where the person you're delegating to always feels comfortable coming to you when they discover a problem rather than feeling like they need to cover it up, which is the worst outcome. Let them know that the only fatal mistake is covering up mistakes, so you can hear about problems as soon as they arise and have more time to be able to fix them. Letting go, and that's what delegation is, means surrendering to the possibility that someone might mess up.
That's painful, but if you use it as a learning experience, you can continue leveling up your business and your productivity over time.