What Exactly to Do When an Employee Screws Up - Christine Kane

The first time I fired someone, I cried. Right there in front of her. Just cried. In spite of what every piece of firing advice told me NOT to do…

I cried.

That’s because I genuinely liked this person…and her firing was partly my fault.

In my early days of founding Uplevel You, I was scared to give feedback to the people on my team. I thought they would resent me. So I ignored problems, minimized mistakes. Basically, I did everything I could to avoid confrontations.

In this case, I kept not giving feedback on this person’s issues. In fact, I did some of her work myself, telling myself she’d figure it out somehow… until it was too late. I had to fire her. It had all gone off the reservation, and I didn’t know how to get it back.

Hiring And Firing Is Expensive

Each full-time person you hire costs $57,968, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.

And no, that number doesn’t include training.

So NOT losing $58,000 in a year would be worth it, right?

Plus, if you let someone go each time they mess up, you’ll never teach your team how to help you. Which means you won’t be able to build a strong business.

And that sucks.

Because instead of burrowing your toes in the white sands of Cancun to celebrate your record breaking year… you’ll wind up being burnt out all the time.

This is from very first two-week vacation without checking in to the office once! Total joy!

Burrowing my toes on a two-week work-free vacation. The team runs everything.  Total joy!

Through the hundreds of thousands of dollars I’ve spent on my own coaching, and the hundreds upon hundreds of books I’ve read—I’ve gathered the hard-won feedback strategies and systems I wished I had when I was starting out… so you can spend less time messing up, and more time doing what you love.

What to Do When an Employee Screws Up: Your Action Plan

Step 1. Deal with it. But deal with it intentionally.

Address the situation right away. Letting things fester makes problems bigger. Remember this mantra: Your success is directly proportional to the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have.

But there’s a key word in this step: Intentionally.

However fired up you are—and trust me on this one—holding your tongue while you think through your response is always best.


Step 2. Your 3-Point Realignment

Before you share feedback, manage yourself. [Do NOT skip this step.]

1 – Vent in private.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. (Okay, 30.) Write it all down. Let fly. (Or call a coach and do the same.)

2 – Own your part.

Now, ask yourself: What role did I play? What could I have done differently?

Maybe you didn’t communicate your expectations clearly. Maybe you don’t even KNOW your expectations.

Again, write it down.

Clarity is your #1 job. Your team won’t get it right if you don’t tell them what is right.

3 – Know the point

Giving feedback isn’t for venting, making anyone feel bad, or boosting your ego. It’s for clarifying expectations and giving someone the opportunity to do it better next time.

Before you bring up the issue, ask yourself: How will giving this feedback serve me and my business?


Step 3. The Feedback Six-Pack

Once you’re clear on your expectations, and you’ve cleared away messy emotions, it’s time to have the conversation.

Your team member should leave the conversation knowing what they did wrong, how to succeed next time, and—I can’t stress this last one enough—that you support them in their growth.

So here’s what the conversation needs to look like. Make sure you prepare these steps before the meeting so that you’re clear and balanced:


Respect their time and your own by scheduling a specific amount of time that works for you both.

Do this: I’d like to set aside ___ minutes today to chat about _____________, just so we’re on the same page. Does ___ am/pm work for you?

Don’t do this: “Hey can you talk right now?”


Set up the container for this conversation by requesting that they hear you out, and let them know they will have the chance to respond when you are complete.

Say this: “I’m going to share something that didn’t go so well this week, and my request is that you listen – and then you can have the chance to talk once I’ve said my piece here. Okay?”

Don’t say this: “Thanks for meeting. Let’s talk about what went wrong today…”


The power of sincere gratitude can’t be overstated. What do they do right? Let them hear it first.

Say this: First off, I want to you to know how much I appreciate __________________(ex: your creative problem solving; your enthusiasm; how you always meet your deadlines.)


Share your disappointment directly and honestly—but frame it in terms of the result of their actions, never as an attack on their personality.

Say this:  I didn’t receive that client email from you in enough time to deal with it properly (UNEMOTIONAL DESCRIPTION OF THE EVENT) so I wasn’t able to respond to her needs in time (THE IMPACT IT HAD ON ME/THE BUSINESS).

Don’t say this:  You didn’t get me that email on time and now the client is pissed.


If you want someone to do better next time, they need to know, specifically, how to succeed, not just that they didn’t. Give them actionable solutions, as well as context for why those solutions work.

Say this:
It’s important to me that _______________________ (context). Which means that in the future, here’s what I need to happen: _________________________ (action steps).


Once you’ve spoken your piece, give them the chance to respond. And listen. (Research shows employees are more engaged when bosses are open to feedback.) When people feel supported in finding solutions to problems, you’re far more likely to have the creative and productive team you dream of.

Say this: So do you have anything you want to share here? What can we do to support you in making this happen?

When you stay present in these conversations, the results are remarkable—and your team will start to recognize the value you see in them. Here’s a chat I got from a team member recently—after one of our most challenging conversations.

When your team feels understood, they are happy. When they are happy, things run better!

When your team feels understood, they are happy. When they are happy, things run better!


Step 4. Follow-up

After you’ve worked together to find a solution, make sure of two things:

1 – That they fully understand your expectations, and

2 – There is a scheduled way to follow up.

Say this:  I appreciate your willingness. How about we check in ___________ at _____ am/pm? That way, we can both try out this new system and iron out any kinks next week.

Don’t say this: So you’ll let me know how it’s going, right?


Bonus Step: Notice

Pay attention. If you see an improvement, however small, mention it.

And if you really want them to feel psyched to work with you? Research shows VERBAL appreciation matters more than email notes.

It’s natural to focus on fixing what’s wrong, but when we take time to notice what’s right — we can inspire the kind of loyalty that builds extraordinary teams.


The lesson:

Mistakes are not the issue. How you deal with them is.

Now, I’m curious: Which of these steps was the hardest for you to imagine yourself doing? Is there anything I missed here?

  • Abdul Hameed

    Hi Chistine thank you for your email, and thank you for your question, I like the case , my Answer is: The problem lies in Four point: 1- Ignore problems. 2- Avoid Confrontations. 3- doing the work by yourself. 4- Your Action plan( step 1) deal with it intentionally.
    The Solution is : 1- The rules of management in Total Quality Mamagement which is ( Plan + Do + Check + and Act).
    2- Pleas Reading on the subject of Behavior and dealing With the staff in the orgaistion or in administration there are many books and value in this area for exampl : Book Tital : Organization Behavior, for Gregory Moorhead,and Ricky W.Griffin, Third Edition ( Managing People and Organizations) to tell you how to deal with the problems of employees and management well and thanks to avoid the expulsion and restraining or dismissal or lack of the most cherished staff or employees with you.

  • Ronnie

    Really awesome process ya got there! I love that it’s an opportunity for grown for both parties. I’ll be bookmarking this baby.

  • Marianna

    This is such a great resource! Thank you!

    I think for me in my past experience as HR manager was the sense of urgency in a fast-paced retail environment. Managers wanted errors cleared up immediately. I satisfied customers were putting pressure on them and the employees. I was the “fixer” of their messes. Usually I was told to “fire the idiot”. Which I didn’t most times because of said cost in your post and it was the pressured manager’s lack of good communication skills.

    Sure wish I had your breakdown
    to give to them for my training sessions with them.

    All this to say, the advice you gave about when and how to speak with an employee that keeps communication open is key. Not shoot from the hip on the spot with venomous blame statements. Timing is of the essence.

  • Beth

    Perfect timing. I am starting a new position and these clear steps will help me to be professional.

  • Katie Vie

    A well timed article, as I just lost my first ever assistant yesterday. Honestly, I didn’t even get beyond the first step. I let things fester, hoping that the nicer I was and the more praise I gave, the problem would self correct. I was afraid of confrontation, afraid of getting emotional in front of my assistant, and maybe even of her getting defensive and telling me I was wrong to make these requests. Oof. It’s such a long road.

  • Rhegina Sinozich

    LOVE this! In answer to your question, the hardest part for me isn’t in the steps–it’s before the steps so clearly THAT needs to be addressed, LOL–and it’s that I just do it myself thinking they’ll catch on in time. Obvious question then is “how’s that working for ya?”…. well, not so well. Great post. Thank you for continuing to be your brilliant self! Happy toe sand-digging.

  • Pall

    Great article. Real advice from real people. Will pass this along to some of our great customers at WIRL! Thank you.

  • Cathy

    I love this! The only thing I might add is that you might have to show them how either you do it (then let them be creative to get the certain end result). If you’re really particular that they do it your way then realize you’ll probably be disappointed. I have learned a lot of new ways of doing things by showing people how I do it to get the result I want and then letting them get creative. It’s advanced my filing systems and improved the way I do things because people are all different and they’ll come up with things you wouldn’t imagine. 🙂 It’s about letting go of the how and hanging on to the results.

  • Alyson Stanfield

    Great timing. Christine, you continue to write juicy*, helpful content, and this is timed beautifully. I, too, have learned those lessons the hard way. I will hire my next employee with these tips in mind.

    *When I say juicy, I mean it’s full of excellent, usable advice – not the usual fluff. Thanks for this!

    • Christine Kane

      Thanks Alyson! And I like being “juicy.” 🙂 Just like every other entrepreneur on the planet, we learn that people are always the biggest teachers, huh? 🙂

  • Lisa Zimmerman

    What a helpful blog post this is! I really appreciate the process you outlined – having a system of steps to follow so that employee contact is constructive, honest, supportive and a win-win for all involved. This is an area that is not often talked about and I know that you have created this through experience. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. You are the best at breaking potentially overwhelming situations down into manageable steps :))

    xx Lisa