Building a Forgiveness Culture

Those “Holy Sh*t” moments? We’ve all had ‘em. You can’t melt into the floor fast enough when you realize that your mistake just pissed off the company’s biggest client or that you broke the $5,000 office printer. (I myself was on a team once that had a $600,000 problem! Talk about Holy Sh*t!)

We’re all human and we all make mistakes. That doesn’t mean these slips have to be the end of your career. Transform mistakes into opportunities for improvement rather than blame by building a culture of forgiveness at your workplace, and you might just notice a few of these powerful benefits.

1. Increased employee engagement

“Paychecks can’t buy passion.”
—Brad Federman

Anyone who is walking on eggshells at work is not going to love their job, no matter how big their paycheck is. Allow employees the freedom to make mistakes, though, and they won’t feel like someone is breathing down their necks.

Give them the autonomy to resolve issues in their own way, as long as their actions are in line with your company’s mission and values. Implement a “no blame” policy where innocent mistakes are treated as learning opportunities.

Work with employees to understand where they went wrong and develop the skills to prevent the situation from happening again. (For recently promoted managers looking to prevent some of the most common management mistakes, check out my New Manager Bootcamp.)

I guarantee that employees won’t make the same mistake twice, and they’ll like where they work a heck of a lot more.

2. Better customer service

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”—Stephen R. Covey

When you were a kid, did you ever break something at home? I’ll bet that, like me, you immediately tried to cover it up because you were afraid of getting in trouble. And it’s not just kids who do that. When employees are afraid of getting in trouble, they’ll try to bury their mistakes too, which can lead to bigger problems.

Instead of striking terror into the heart of your workers by getting angry or chastising them, cultivate a forgiving workplace environment where employees will own their mistakes. They’llfocus on fixing the problem rather than freezing or playing the blame game. That means faster and more straightforward problem resolution, which translates into better outputs for your clients.

Accept that mistakes are unavoidable, and treat your employees exactly how you want them to treat your clients: with patience, empathy, and understanding.

3. More innovation and creativity

“It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong,
than to be always right by having no ideas at all.”
—Edward de Bono

20 years in advertising has taught me that safe thinking leads to crap work. When companies get too comfortable, they'll stop pushing to make the best creative work possible. That’s a nail in the coffin, people. The only way to find better solutions and increase creativity is to give employees the leeway to experiment and try new things.

And you’ll only ever hear about those great ideas if you create an environment where employees aren’t afraid to speak up. Do your best today to foster an environment where your team is comfortable sharing ideas, failing if necessary, then getting right back up to try it again.

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