Just days into the New Year I realized I made a mistake. Not an “Oopsie, I sent a client the wrong paperwork” kind of a mistake, but a massive one.
I made a $12,000 mistake.
To put it simply, I undercharged a client, and I owe the this-could-have-paid-for-a-trip-to-the-Bahamas difference.
What sucks is, it was completely in my control and I was completely not paying attention to details, which is completely my Acheillies heel because I don’t like paying attention to details. And it was completely during the holidays ... and it was COMPLETELY avoidable had I slowed down and double-checked my work.
While my first response was “Fuckity Fuck Fuck!” I knew I had to bite my tongue and own my mistake.
According to Josh Bersin’s research on High-Impact Learning Culture, the organizations that learn quickly have a “vast and deep tolerance for mistakes.” Top execs should expect their company to make mistakes and learn from them.
When we make errors in the workplace, we need to own it. For me this meant an immediate global note for my company. It went something like this: DOUBLE-CHECK JANICE’S MATH OR ELSE. But really, it was an order that at least one team member must ensure I’ve included the right package at the right price for any proposal before it is sent onto and signed off by a client.
You have to let people know what you are going to do differently to prevent mistakes from happening again. Plus, you have to give those around you permission to hold you accountable for it.
One of my clients had a great lesson in allowing accountability. The company had a manager who was consistently late to meetings. The manager would get really engaged in the work they were doing and lose track of time, leaving waiting staffers frustrated.
The leader’s perception was “Why didn’t you come get me?” while the other people in the room, one in particular, made an assumption: “Well, I didn’t want to interrupt you. Plus, you saw us all leave and walk past your office to the meeting.” Another person’s perspective was “you’re an adult (aka leader), it’s not my job to manage your time (aka parent you)”.
The stories we make up about another person's actions and whether our not that story is aligned with our own values is the catalyst for conflict. Then, if you compound that issue with a lack of communication, ongoing conflicts will arise.
It wasn’t until that always-late manager decided to give his workers permission to hold him accountable -- “Come tell me when the meeting is about to start, instead of passive aggressively waiting and rolling your eyes when I walk in” -- that things changed.
The more vulnerable leaders can be, specifically verbalizing what they want help with, the more their team can be a part of a supportive and safe environment.
While being 10 minutes late to a meeting may not make me cringe as much as losing $12,000, both are lessons in ensuring mistakes aren’t repeated in the future. The only way to earn back trust that was lost with a client (or a co-worker) is through consistent actions. Apologize when necessary. Allow yourself to feel bad about it -- fuckity fuck fuck fuck! -- but only for a short period of time. And make a strategic plan to avoid the same mistake going forward.
As long as it’s not repeated, it’s OK to make mistakes. It shows you’re growing, learning and getting better at what you do every day.