Creative Commons License photo credit: anitakhart

When a mistake is made, or when something is not handled in an optimal manner, you are presented with a great opportunity for everyone to get better.

It’s not that I seek, encourage or enjoy mistakes. But, I also don’t think that it’s the end of the world if a violation is missed or if a post was removed when it shouldn’t have been. It’s not ideal, but it happens. To pretend that it doesn’t is to delude yourself. You want to correct it and you want to follow up with the affected members to ensure everyone is on the same page and, if appropriate, apologize for the error.

But, that aside, you then want to try to limit similar types of errors in the future and a great way to do that is to treat it as a lesson. I like to do this in the member documentation area, right alongside where the initial action was documented.

My focus is not to dwell on the mistake but to, instead, explain how I’d like to see it handled in the future. For example, my process is something like this:

  1. Identify the issue. Something wasn’t handled like it should have been. Maybe that means it was handled pretty well, but not as great as I want.
  2. Correct the issue. This could me moving a post back into the public or contacting a member to explain something more clearly.
  3. Contact the member. Apologize if appropriate. Always apologize for what “we” did, not what the individual staff member did.
  4. Document my actions for all moderators to see.
  5. Explain what the issue was, how I’d like it to be handled in the future and provide any tips that will help ensure that happens.

I don’t say that it was OK to make the mistake, but I also don’t beat them up about it, either. I make it more about us as a unit than them specifically. Mistakes are one of the ways that we learn. And maybe it isn’t a mistake as much as it just wasn’t optimal. I feel like this approach helps to encourage a team-minded atmosphere and build loyalty, instead of building a team of individuals who is distrustful of you, and of each other, so deeply afraid of making what might be a mistake that they are handicapped from actively moderating.

Of course, there are mistakes that you can’t come back from. But, most of those go back to character issues and, by the time that someone is being considered for a spot on staff, we usually know them pretty well.

I have found that my moderators have responded very well to this approach. They’ll usually reply with confirmation that they understand and/or an apology, which is nice, even if it isn’t my goal. Usually, a moderator will not repeat a similar type of mistake within a reasonable amount of time. But, if they do, I then have to evaluate it in a different way and try to determine if it is innocent or if there is a pattern developing. Sometimes, this will trigger a more serious and direct talk to check and make sure that we are on the same page and that they are committed to being a member of the team. But, those conversations tend to be very rare.

Moderators need management and quality assurance is an important part of that. You and your moderators are given the chance to improve when you actively identify issues, fix them and use them as an example moving forward.