Risk Watch with Alberta Quarcoopome: Mistakes are not failures


“As for this one, I can’t report. I don’t want to be sanctioned”

“ I will not like to be a scapegoat. Afterall, others are also doing it”

“I know it’s a mistake, but I can’t allow my subordinate to be punished.”

“My staff will hate me for reporting the event”

“There is no need to report. After all, the mistake has been corrected”

Dear Readers, these are a few quotes that some people make about reporting risk incidents to Management. Sometimes, errors happen genuinely and yet they are not reported because of the fear of being penalized. In these modern times, being cautioned for genuine mistakes should not necessarily mean that the culprit has bad intentions, or deliberately caused the offence. One should not be quick to judge people from one mistake.

As a first step, it is beneficial to determine the areas of the business where a mistake could take place without causing too much damage. Any event that would damage customers and the trust they had placed in an organization should always be triggered for management decision. In banks, almost every function that is performed has legal implications and therefore require executive involvement and oversight.

Every bank has a risk register that records all risk incidents. These records are not only for compilation purposes. The Risk profile of a bank can be assessed based on the level of risks that occurs, their severity and consequences.

Making any mistake once is normal, but so long as it was an honest mistake made while attempting to do what was felt was the right thing. However, repeating that same mistake a second time is not normal.

Employees should be able to cope with the consequences of making mistakes and learning lessons from them and moving on. We need to tolerate or ‘roll’ with the hardships we may unexpectedly run into, and for bankers, coping with the consequences of mistakes made on the job.

Making Mistakes and Encountering Challenges

Have you ever made a mistake, and I mean a BIG one at that? How did you feel? How did others in the bank make you feel? If it was not an individual mistake, but a fundamental and institutional one, how did the staff and management feel about the losses incurred? What are some of the consequences?…

  • Query….that is very minor. What do you think, leave you alone? Definitely not!
  • Suspicion…….expect it. That is how human beings are…even your supposed friends. Some will start “eyeing” you and shy away from you. Don’t worry, that is when you have to start counting your true friends…
  • Facing the Disciplinary Committee of the bank…the dreaded one. Sometimes some of the panel members understand how you feel, but well, well, the rules are there, even though some of them may need serious reviews.
  • An arrest by the Police, sometimes even going as far as being invited to meet officials of the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO), and the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI).
  • Suspension from work
  • Demotion
  • Dismissal
  • Financial and Family challenges
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts……as for this I beg you!!


Mistakes are the stepping stones to moving outside the comfort zone to the growing zone where new discoveries are made and great lessons are learned. Mistakes are not failures, they are simply the process of eliminating ways that won’t work in order to come closer to the ways that will.

I read a thought-provoking article in Forbes in 17th April 2013, (Ten years ago) by Amy Rees Anderson, a contributor. Titled: “Good Employees Make Mistakes. Great Leaders Allow Them To” Over the years, I have continued to reflect over it and wish to share the following interesting extracts for your reflection.

“Great leaders allow their people the freedom to make mistakes. But good employees are those who when mistakes are made 1. Learn from them, 2. Own them, 3. Fix them, and 4. Put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated again.

  1. Learn from them:  Good employees recognize that they have, in fact, made an honest mistake.  They do not get defensive about it, rather they are willing to look objectively at their mistake, recognize what they did wrong, and understand why their choice or actions were the wrong thing to do.
  2. Own them:  Good employees take accountability for their mistakes. They admit them readily.  They don’t make excuses for their mistake, rather they acknowledge that yes, they made a mistake and they express openly what lesson they have learned from that mistake. They go on to express steps 3 and 4 below.
  3. Fix them: Good employees do what it takes to rectify their wrongs. They are willing to do whatever they can to fix the problem and make it right. Certainly there are times when the damage is done and recompense cannot be made, but good employees do their very best to repair whatever damage has been done to the best of their ability. They always establish a timeline with follow up for when the problem will be fixed and make sure that progress is communicated throughout the process so everyone feels the urgency and care with which they are correcting the problem.
  4. Put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated again: This is the most critical step in the learning process. When a mistake has clearly been made, the most important thing anyone can do is figure out what safety nets and roadblocks can be carefully established to ensure that this same mistake will never take place again. Document this step so the lessons learned and the safeguards setup can always go beyond you. Do everything in your power to help others learn from your mistake so they don’t have to experience them on their own to gain the lesson you’ve learned.

The steps to correcting mistakes apply to any area of life. Whether it’s business life or home life or personal life, the principles of apologizing remain the same. Good employees make a lot of mistakes, and truly great employees are those have mastered the art of apologizing for those mistakes:

Great People Practice The Six A’s of a Proper Apology:

  • Admit– I made a mistake.
  • Apologize– I am sorry for making the mistake.
  • Acknowledge– I recognize 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 that I do not make the same mistake again.
  • Abstain– Never repeat that same mistake twice.

People who implement the Six A’s will find that the level of trust and respect others have for them will grow tenfold. People who implement the Six A’s will find that others will be quicker to forgive them and more likely to extend a second chance. It’s not the making of a mistake that is generally the problem; it’s what you do with it afterward that really counts.”

***source: www.amyreesanderson.com/blog

Great thoughts, Amy, worth sharing.

Over the years, I have appreciated these insights. However, in banking, there is very little room for trying out new ideas, except in some designated departments such as Product Development, Marketing etc. This profession, which happens to be the most regulated sector involves safeguarding depositors’ funds, makes it quite rigid and sometimes mistakes are not reported.


Despite the regular monitoring by supervisors and leaders, it is very beneficial in the long run for mistakes, as well as frauds are reported. Trend analysis of such infractions usually end up in identifying key risk areas requiring reviews, and even product changes to benefit the whole organization in the long run. Some mistakes are made as a result in some gaps or lapses in the development of a product or service.

Fraud is a definite NO! however mistakes should be always be reported, for lessons learnt shared to everyone. Learning from the mistake is key.

Making a mistake does not make you a failure. Not learning from it will rather make you a failure, and that requires sanctions to be applied.


Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of Three books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story” and “The Modern Branch Manager’s Companion”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.


Website www.alkanbiz.com

Email:alberta@alkanbiz.com  or [email protected]

Tel: +233-0244333051/+233-0244611343


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