Learning from mistakes….7 tips to making amends

A few months ago, one of my staff members rang me in a panic.  She had stuffed up. Big time.  She had accidentally hit reply to an email instead of forward to an internal colleague.  The content of the message was…well let’s say, pretty direct and used a few “internal” jargons referring to the sender of the email and instead it went to the sender! Oh dear. A mistake. An embarrassing mistake that she felt terrible about. What to do?

One of my biggest motto’s in running a business has been you have to make mistakes to learn and if you aren’t making mistakes you’re not making anything. I read this philosophy in 2001 reading Richard Branson’s “losing my virginity”. It’s an attitude that I have adopted and put into practice many many times.

The advice and steps we took to deal with it were:

  1. Empathy – let the person de-brief, cry, whinge, discuss the issue – being heard is really important. Being able to de-brief and just talk about a stuff up without judgment or problem solving is really important so people know you care. On this occasion, the Consultant was mortified….she had referred to the candidate in a way that could have been perceived as ‘judgmental’ and perhaps a little unprofessional, so letting her vent was therapeutic, as she wasn’t ready to solve the problem yet.
  2. Step back from the emotion and really look at the facts of what’s happened.  Looking a raw data, sequence of events and timelines can help get clear on what’s important and distinguish how did this happen? (as opposed to the why – which will drive excuses).
  3. How can we solve this – what are all our options here? There is never only one option so it’s important to brainstorm every possible solution, even if you don’t like them or you think that others will disagree.
  4. Execute – decide on the best plan of attack to the solve the problem. The Consultant just jumped on the phone to the “sender” and apologised. Being honest and upfront and using verbal communication was the best option. They actually ended up having a good laugh and she came in for an interview the next day!  Phew!
  5. Learning – what have we learnt? Whenever there is a mistake, there is an opportunity to learn.  This is a good thing! I know one of the biggest lessons I learnt early in my career was not to gossip about other clients … Adelaide is a small market and this is sure-fire way to discredit your reputation.  It was a painful mistake, but an invaluable learning.
  6. System – let’s put a system in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
  7. Move on – don’t dwell on it and go over and over and over it again. Being able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off speaks volumes about who you are.

What happened that day for this Consultant is pretty minor in the scheme of things, as most mistakes on a day-to-day basis can be fixed by following the steps above.  Over the years when I think about mistakes that were made in the business, they tend to be incremental ones such as charging an incorrect rate on a temp margin, sending a group email with all the address of the recipients visible, sending a courier to a wrong address, forgetting to send an important document in the mail, not returning a call the same day…. I think sometimes we need to remember that we are all human and mistakes happen. It’s the way that we deal with it that, see the learning opportunity and of course make sure it doesn’t happen again!

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