Fixing Your Workplace Blunders And Screw-Ups
Posted: June 18, 2010 | 15:57 ET
BY MARK SWARTZ, THE CAREER ACTIVIST®
Repairing The Damage And Restoring Your ReputationThink you’ve made some serious bloopers at work over the years?
Take comfort that your worst foul-up ever pales in comparison to the blotch made by one Nick Leeson, who, as Head Trader at the now defunct 200 year old Barings Bank of Britain, racked up the world’s biggest trading loss of $1.3 Billion dollars in 1995, forcing his market-leading employer to be sold for the humiliating sum of £1.00.
I’ve tried to imagine formerly self-assured Nick pacing in his office, summoning up the courage to approach his boss. Practicing in the mirror, how would he broach the news? “Um, er, say there boss, that sure is a spiffy new outfit you’re wearing today. Oh, and by the way, I’ve just singlehandedly destroyed our two centuries old company.”
Recognize Your GaffeSooner or later everyone does something dumb at work. Missing a crucial deadline. Accidentally sending confidential data to the wrong e-mail address. Or, if you happen to work for Apple, inadvertently leaving a prototype of your super-secret new phone in a very public bar.
The point is that when you do screw up, it’s up to you to try and fix things quickly. Thus step one is simply to recognize that you’ve blown it. Admit that there’s a problem and identify its scope. What exactly is happening? How is it impacting processes and people?
Inform The Powers That BeIf the predicament can’t be easily contained, or if it’s beyond your powers to deal with on your own, then you’ll have to share the bad news with others sooner than later. Gulp.
Are you the type that takes pleasure in letting your supervisor know how badly you’ve failed? If so, I know of some good masochist societies you could join. For the rest of us, having to confess messing up – when your very job might be on the line – ranks right up there for sheer pleasure with jamming a Blackberry into your eye socket.
But inform your superiors you must, lest you become another Nick Leeson – who spent a number of years in prison for the antics he delayed reporting.
Bosses hate to be blindsided. Better you should approach them early on, outline the problem, describe some solutions you’re working on, and provide ongoing status reports. Ask for help if you need it: ego bruising is secondary to solving the situation.
Fix Or Get NixedOnce you’ve identified your mistake and outed yourself as fallible, you still may have a chance for redemption. It’s all about damage control.
You’re under a microscope while trying to repair your error and any ensuing harm. So act like your job depends on what you do from this moment forward (since it probably does). Here’s some helpful advice:
• Use all resources at hand to contain the damage
• Keep the people who are involved in the problem continually informed
• Give notice upstream to those who are counting on you so they know to expect delays
• Be specific about when you plan to have things back to normal
Once the crisis is over with, be sure to sincerely thank each and every person who helped you. A little humility can go a long way in situations like these.
Learn From What’s Taken PlaceShampoo marketers love the phrase “Lather. Rinse. Repeat.” They know there may not be any need to re-wash your hair that second time. But it does increase the product’s consumption rate.
A blunderer’s mantra might sound similar, but with one important difference: “Err. Recover. Do NOT Repeat.”
Make notes for yourself on how your glitch came about. What were the actual causes? Where were you personally at fault? Be brutally honest, but don’t beat yourself up too badly. If you can learn from your mistakes such that you improve your methods and actions in the future, you’re showing the kind of professional growth that employers look for.
Gradually Restore Your ReputationDepending on the size of your faux pas, it may take a while to rebuild people’s confidence in you. Don’t make matters worse by trying to pull off some grand gesture that you think will reinstate you in your employer’s good books, unless positive results are guaranteed.
Instead you can slowly, steadily reprove your competence. Make sure that you do small things well. Adhere to deadlines and budgets. Double check any of your work that could cause problems if not mistake-free.
Over time your boss and colleagues will come to trust your abilities again. Just look at ol’ Nick. An unhireable pariah after his massive misadventure, today he is a sought out speaker, beloved husband to a new wife, and CEO of the Galway United Football Club in Ireland. Maybe you’ll even write a best-selling book about your recovery like he did: Back from the Brink - Coping with Stress.
Mark Swartz, MBA M.Ed, is a nationally-known Canadian career coach, speaker and author who specializes in helping you get the most out of your worklife. For more on Mark's articles and career resources visit his Career Activist® website.
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