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What to do when you make a mistake

– Liz

What to do when you make a mistake

I made a mistake recently. While it’s never a great feeling when you mess up, we learned a lot from it, and thought that was worth sharing.

Businesses rarely talk about blunders in a public setting. It doesn’t look good. It’s much easier to talk about the slick new solution you came up with for a client or how you came to the rescue in their hour of need. Mistakes? Not so sexy. But the reality is that mistakes happen and it’s how you handle them that counts.

  1. First, do no more harm

Once you realise you’ve made your mistake. Stop. Don’t try cover it up, don’t try to push on and hope for the best. Just stop and take a deep breath.

  1. Take responsibility

We’ve watched enough movies to know that things go south quickly when you’re not honest with yourself. Pick up the mistake, take responsibility for it and start the turn-around.

  1. Assess the damage

Do what you can to identify exactly what you did wrong and the parameters of what it will affect.

  1. Understand it’s not about you

You’re going to feel horrible. You’re going to want to do a million things to try and make it better. Don’t make this about you. Now, it’s about damage control.

  1. Fess up to the boss

Tell the leaders that you work with (managers, senior team, whoever). Give them as much specific information as you can. Be clear and professional and let them know you are committed to jumping in to do whatever needs to be done to fix things.

If you are the most senior person, this sucks all the more. The following steps relate to whoever is going to handle the mess.

  1. Stem the bleeding

If the mistake is in a process, take measures to halt the process so you’ve got a limited affected area to work with.

  1. Get to the client first

Don’t let the client have to call you with a complaint, call them first. Take a deep breath, clearly state what the issue was, what interim measures you’ve taken, and how you’re going to fix it. Apologise sincerely. Be honest – the client will appreciate it in the end.

  1. Keep them in the loop

You might be frantically working to fix things, but be sure to update the client regularly so they know you’re on it. They will be anxious about it too.

  1. Debrief with the client

Once the storm has passed, check in with the client to ensure everything is working smoothly again. Do what you can lighten the financial load –i.e. don’t charge for the work you do from the mistake to the point where it’s fixed. Apologise sincerely for the last time and close this chapter.

  1. Let it go

You’re human. It happens.