18 CEOs explain how they want people to respond to making a mistake at work

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Making a mistake at work can be disheartening. Having the CEO find out about it can make you feel even worse.

Knowing the right way to approach the error, what to say, or whether to just go ahead and fix it can be hard to determine.

Business Insider reached out to some high profile CEOs to get their perspective on what they expect from their employees in these situations.

One theme all the executives had in common was they expected their employees to be upfront about their mistakes, but more importantly learn from them so that they don’t happen again.

Here’s what they had to say.

Sali Stevanja, co-founder of Poppy Renegade and Stylerunner wants to see her employees take accountability.

I think all leaders will have a different expectation to their team and how they respond to making a mistake. For myself, it's not so much the mistake that matters it's the way the employee takes ownership that counts. If I can see that they have taken accountability, are aware of the circumstances that led them to making the error and have thought of ways they will ensure it doesn't happen again then that displays a level of maturity and professionalism.

*Stevanja will be speaking at Online Retailer Conference on July 22-23.

Mat Jacobson, CEO and founder of Ducere wants people to use mistakes to their advantage.

It is inevitable, everyone makes mistakes. With busy daily schedules and multitasking even the most experienced employee is bound to make a mistake.

The answer is to embed a culture of experimentation in the workplace and to have a clear understanding of the desired outcome.

It is important to admit that you have made a mistake it means that you are trying, embrace the opportunity to develop your skills and use it to your advantage. An unsuccessful trial isn’t an issue, it is the improvements that follow that can be tested and monitored.

Failure and mistakes, no matter how you spin it are bad. Adaptability, research and experimentation with a view of constant improvement is not only acceptable but it is necessary for employees to grow their career and for businesses to survive.

Sarah Timmerman, founder of Beginning Boutique, says making mistakes is a part of your career.

Making mistakes is a part of your career. The way you deal with mistakes shows your level of maturity and care for your workplace.

I expect staff to report on mistakes made and document how we can ensure this is systemised to stop this particular mistake from happening again.

Staff need to learn fast and grow from their mistakes while putting the best interests of the business and customers first before pride. Say sorry, systemise and grow.

*Timmerman will be speaking at Online Retailer Conference on July 22-23.

Stephanie Christopher, CEO, The Executive Connection wants people to take ownership of their mistakes.

As a CEO I want to provide an environment where people can talk to me or their manager if something goes wrong. It’s important to promote a culture of learning from mistakes and keeping an open, constructive and calm environment.

It’s crucial that a mistake be acknowledged and shared quickly, so a solution can be found immediately and - if it’s serious - damage control can commence as soon as possible.

It’s always best to take ownership and be on the front foot rather than take sit back and wait to see what happens.

I’m also a big believer in project reviews, so we can assess what has worked well and what needs to be improved next time.

Andy Taylor, founder and CEO of Yatango, says honesty is the best policy.

I expect the employee to be honest and responsible as the mistake could affect others in the team.

Making mistakes are part of human nature but it's how we as CEOs deal with it and how our employees handle the situation and themselves that matter. I would expect them to identify the lesson and learn from it.

We only grow through mistakes. At the end of the day, honesty is the best policy.

Darwoon Kang, co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel, doesn't want to hear excuses.

1. Own it. Don't provide excuses.

2. Figure out what to do about the mistake and go do it.

3. Most importantly - learn from it. Don't repeat it!

Dean Ramler, CEO and co-founder of Milan Direct, doesn't believe in mistakes.

Milan Direct is a heavily data driven business. We encourage the team to constantly innovate, to try new things and to then check back on the data to assess if their decision was a correct one, or not.

This means we don’t really believe in mistakes, only strategies that may not have gone to plan, and we use that as an opportunity to learn from and grow. For example, if our buying team is considering 10 new office chairs, rugs or lamps, and 7 out of 10 don’t sell as planned, we expect our team to look at this as an opportunity to learn which products are fast movers and which are not. We embrace data and therefore move forwards a smarter company each day.

Aaron Smith, CEO and founder of KX Group, wants the employee to provide him with a solution.

The personality of your employee shines when they handle their mistake in the correct manor.

First they need to take responsibility for their actions. I widely promote that making mistakes in not necessarily a bad thing in my organisation, as long as something has been learned from it and it is openly communicated.

Next they need to provide me with a solution. Of course this entirely is dependant on the severity of the mistake, but communication is the key here and I get my people taking about issues and problems as much as possible as advice from other colleagues is very powerful before a big decision is made.

If on the other hand the mistake is brushed under the carpet, then many more errors, mistrust and dishonesty will continue which will prove toxic moving forward.

Phil Offer, CEO of MedicalDirector, wants people to learn from their mistake to avoid it happening again.

It’s important that an organisation can clearly differentiate between accepted risks that might not succeed and personal mistakes that could reasonably have been avoided with the employee’s experience. This helps ensure against a blame culture.

Where a mistake has been made, my advice is threefold – don’t hide it, own it and learn from it to avoid recurrence.

Christian Mischler, co-founder, COO and CMO of HotelQuickly, says failure is what brings us forward.

Trial and error is a crucial process in any environment that is driven by innovation, and as a tech company I encourage my team members to try new things, to test assumptions, and to learn from the results.

These days it is normal for internet companies to run A/B tests, where from the outset it is clear that one test group will succeed better than the other - relative failure is what brings us forward.

Errare humanum est - as much as it’s human to be capable to learn and improve.

Kellie Brown, founder of Fig & Bloom, wants to talk about creative gaps instead of concealing them.

In creative industries mistakes aren't black and white. Sometimes, a mistake can be mistaken for creativity, breaking new ground, or taking creative control.

Our culture at Fig & Bloom is very open. We encourage everyone to identify and talk about creative gaps (or mistakes) instead of concealing them. As a leader, I believe it's crucial that everyone in the company has an opportunity to reflect and learn from other people's mistakes as well as their own. The end result is better understanding, insight and decision making by across the entire business.

*Brown will be speaking at Online Retailer Conference on July 22-23.

Jane Hunt, CEO of Adopt Change, wants to know about a mistake sooner rather than later.

Things go 'wrong' all the time. It is in these moments when we make mistakes that we learn and grow.

As a CEO, I think it is important to remember that we too make mistakes - we need to establish an organisational culture that copes, and hopefully flourishes, when these things happen.

A CEO can ensure a staff member has the opportunity to learn from a mistake, grow and change with their dignity intact. If we do, staff are more likely to be loyal, positive, and productive members of the organisation. I expect staff to tell me early on that they think something has gone wrong, to own their part and to offer a couple of solutions. I then expect them to help fix the situation and to be able to reflect and share with me and their team members on what they learnt as a result.

Ena Hadziselimovic, co-founder and director of Hello Molly Fashion, says how employees handle mistakes is a reflection of personal character.

A true reflection of your professional and personal character is how you handle a mistake.

Firstly, as soon as you can, calmly come forward and explain the error. Don’t overreact. It's not going to solve anything and is just going to make you look unprofessional.

With most errors, time is of the essence so the most important action you can take is to tell your manager, immediately. No matter how serious, don’t panic the best thing to do for everyone involved is to come forward. Then take ownership of the error, don’t make excuses, blame another employee, or sweep it under the rug for someone else to discover. Don’t sit on it looking for a way out, it will just make a bad situation worse.

Secondly, show remorse, and show that you are willing to work to rectify the situation. Offer up possible solutions to the problem and if you can, do everything within your power to make it right. Stay back late, send an apologetic email, find any possible solutions.

Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just remember we all make mistakes, it is how you learn from these mistakes and move forward that will help you grow professionally and will earn you the respect of your colleagues.

*Hadziselimovic will be speaking at Online Retailer Conference on July 22-23.

Taryn Williams, CEO of WINK Models, says 'Don’t come with a problem, come with a solution'.

We all make mistakes. It’s about how you handle a mistake when it occurs that is important.

I expect my staff to acknowledge the mistake & take ownership of it, notify stakeholders, and come armed with an action plan to rectify the situation. I always say to my team ‘Don’t come with a problem, come with a solution’.

I also ask that once we’ve solved the mistake, we look at what steps and measures we can put in place to prevent the situation from happening again, and make sure that we’ve all learned from the experience.

Lana Hopkins, founder and CEO of Mon Purse, wants her employees to practice The Six A’s of a Proper Apology when they make a mistake.

Oscar Wilde said, experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.

In my opinion great CEO's should foster an environment where their team is not afraid to make mistakes.

We all make mistakes (this very much includes me) and if we are not making mistakes, then we are probably not venturing outside our comfort zone, that is in fact a huge mistake.

Mistakes are good.

Making a mistake once while attempting to do what is right is totally acceptable in my view. However, repeating that same mistake a second time is not OK.
It is important to learn from a mistake and improve, it is also crucial to apologise and admit that a mistake had been made.

I once read that great people practice The Six A’s of a Proper Apology, and live by it.

Admit - I made a mistake.
Apologise - I am sorry for making the mistake.
Acknowledge - I recognise where I went wrong that caused my mistake to occur.
Attest - I plan to do the following to fix the mistake on this specific timeline.
Assure - I will put the following protections in place to ensure I do not make the same mistake.
Abstain – Never repeat that same mistake twice.

*Hopkins will be speaking at Online Retailer Conference on July 22-23.

James van Rooyen, founder of Bicycles Online, says acknowledgement is the key.

I find the key to handling mistakes is acknowledgement - understanding and recognising the mistake has been made. In doing so both the employee and the employer can then decide on how to resolve the issue collaboratively. It allows you to work together to solve the issue. It is however, not always easy for an employee to approach his / her manager and acknowledge their mistake, as it puts the employee in a vulnerable position.

So it is vital for management to create a culture that fosters trust and communication between employees and managers. Both employees and managers should understand that whilst it is important to minimise mistakes, mistakes are going to happen. Managers should focus on supporting and guiding their staff, rather than simply being the judge. The repercussions of a culture where mistakes are inexcusable are costly. In these cultures often the mistake is only discovered when it is too late to resolve.

*van Rooyen will be speaking at Online Retailer Conference on July 22-23.

Philip Weinman, CEO and executive chairman of Locomote, encourages everyone to make decisions, wrong or right.

I place an emphasis on encouraging everyone to make decisions at Locomote. Wrong or right, a commitment one way or another is more important. Growth, both personal and business wise comes from learning and you don’t learn if you are simply told the answer or you don't answer.

I think that the fear of failure stops people from making decisions and so I try to instill the idea that there is no wrong answer that isn’t a lesson. I expect honesty from the entire team and in return we build a relationship based on trust and respect.

Everyone makes mistakes — the key is how you recover. There are two options — do nothing, or accept it and learn from it. There is no damage that can’t be undone — this is how we keep growing and improving.

Bevan Nel, managing director of Helpling, wants his employees to learn and grow from their mistake.

Mistakes are an inevitable part of operating a high growth business and driving innovation. At Helpling we aim to create a culture and a work environment where employees are empowered to make educated decisions in their roles. If a mistake happens, we encourage employees to own it, identify the cause, discuss ways to avoid it happening in the future and importantly, learn and grow from it. We also encourage employees to share the learnings with the team so as a business, we can become more efficient.

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