Handling Errors Before They Become Surprises

July 26, 2016

Surprises and errors are two things that we face every day in business and in life. How we handle and deal with them speaks volumes about our companies and ourselves. In the business world, errors happen. They are rarely intentional, as my kids often suggested when they did something wrong in my personal life, but they do happen. This is where the surprise factor happens when someone doesn’t take ownership of the error or they are afraid to make a decision which would repair the damage. As one who doesn’t like surprises here are some thoughts to consider.

As the saying goes, “always deliver bad news in person.” It’s always worse if someone finds out bad news on their own — especially if that bad news is the result of an error you’ve made. At least if you deliver the news and own your role in it, you can control the narrative and respond to the emotion of the situation appropriately.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Didn’t Dad always go easier on you when you looked him in the eye and told him about the dent in the car, rather than letting him discover it on his own? Sure, you may still get a tongue lashing, but at least you had a chance to explain what happened and an opportunity to make it right on your terms.

While it is never fun to put yourself in the position of delivering bad news or admitting mistakes you’ve made — it is the right thing to do and can earn you the respect of others. This holds not only in your private life — but in the business world as well.

I have always been fortunate to work with great Customer Service Representatives. Years ago when I was in sales for our company, I had three requests that I felt were important; 1) if there was a problem with an account, tell me before the customer told me, 2) do not wait for me, make any decisions that will rectify the problem and 3) upon resolution, if it is good news, please deliver it. However, if it is bad news and they felt uncomfortable delivering then I would deliver any bad news.

So, why are some people incapable of admitting they have made an error?

I think it’s because we’re taught that making a mistake is being worthy of blame. A healthier way to address such situations is to admit the truth even before they happen – – mistakes happen — then to move forward as a team to create a culture of trust where people can admit to mistakes quickly and take appropriate action to correct them.

So, how does one create a culture of trust? First, stay calm. Acting emotionally when there is a mistake only makes it worse. Let employees know that while no one likes errors, we know they will happen. Finally, work with the employee or employees involved to identify a solution to the problem and create a process to fix the mistake.

Nurturing an environment that is focused on solving problems rather than hiding from discipline or playing the blame game will promote greater team strength and will encourage workers to point out and address potential issues before they become true problems and surprises.

How do you deal with errors in your company? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Best Wishes,

Joe Clayton
Sea-Land Chemical Company

Great Experience. Better Life.