Dealing with Mistakes: Coaching with the “5 R Approach”

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When results to be achieved are delegated by a leader and agreed upon by a team member, clear accountability on the part of the team member should be established. At the same time, the team member must have the appropriate authority to take the action steps needed to achieve the results. This is the well-known idea of “empowerment.” However, in every decision, large or small, some risk is involved and mistakes in judgment are bound to occur. In a positive work environment, there must be a reasonable allowable margin for mistakes in judgment. If there is not such latitude, the team member might conclude that the necessary authority has not been granted to achieve the agreed upon results.

Even in this environment, mistakes can still be very serious and well beyond the agreed upon plans and a coaching meeting is needed. These meetings can be positive in direction, even though tough issues must be addressed. Here is the suggested 5 R Approach:

  1. Research
    Always, always do your research before calling a team member into a coaching meeting where a mistake is the center of the discussion. Gather as much detail as possible, so that you are as prepared as possible for the unknowns that can often come up in these meetings.

  2. Rapport
    When meeting with the person who has made a mistake and clearly knows it, begin by putting the person at ease and reducing the anxiety. One way is to begin with some appreciation that is supported by evidence. Choose a positive behavior that you have observed rather than giving a compliment.

  3. Relate to the Situation
    During this step, it is best to focus on the problem, not the person. Eliminate personal pronouns and depersonalize the problem. It was the action that was wrong, not the person who did it. Let the person explain what happened from their perspective. Be sure to listen whether the person is accepting responsibility or avoiding it. The goal is to gather facts and accurately identify the problem and why it happened. By reducing defensiveness and not jumping to conclusions, different perspectives will surface, and the root cause should be more readily identified.

  4. Restore Performance
    The purpose here is to remedy the problem, reduce the chances of the mistake reoccurring and restore the person’s performance. For the team member who has accepted responsibility and is ready to move on, effective questioning and listening can be used to encourage him/her to suggest the best corrective action steps. This team member is usually ready to be involved in the process. On the other hand, for the “blaming” or “avoiding” employee, the leader may first need to reaffirm performance expectations and coach for acceptance of responsibility to restore accountability.

  5. Reassure
    This step is clearly focused on the person. Anyone who has erred feels, to some degree, like a failure and is less inclined to approach the next opportunity with confidence. Therefore, the leader/coach role is to help the team member see the situation in a different context.

The team member who has accepted full responsibility for the mistake needs to be reassured of his/her value to the organization and the leader’s support and encouragement. He/she should leave the meeting motivated to achieve optimal performance.

The “blaming” or “avoiding” team member should leave with a sense of accountability and understanding what expectations are. He/she should also understand the leader/coach is interested in their success and growth.

In summary, when mistakes happen they should be addressed. The purpose of a positive coaching meeting is to address the problem, not dress down the person.

Final (Very Important) Thought
If you, in your leadership role, find yourself with the same team member, addressing the same situation, for the second, third or fourth time, your red light should be blinking! You may need to explore the team member’s strengths, interests and goals and search for a better fit within your company or department. It is an injustice to team members when leadership perpetuates a situation where individuals feel they can never succeed. The last resort, after attempts to coach them for desired performance have been unsuccessful, is to remove them from that area of responsibility.

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