Developing Your Career


Mitigate workplace mistakes with a five-point action plan

By Greg Simpson on September 24, 2014

Making a mistake is part of being human, but making a mistake at work can present unique challenges with a lot on the line. Everything is magnified as possible repercussions play out in our minds — my boss may never forgive me, the company may lose a key customer, I may lose my job, etc.  How we handle our mistakes at work is a test of our integrity that we can use as a “teachable moment.”  As business icon Jack Welch said, “I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.”

In Laura McMullen’s article, 4 Mistakes of Career Experts – and What You Can Learn From Them, four career experts relate mistakes made early in their careers, conveying the terror and panic that accompanied them, how the situations were resolved, and the lesson learned. Mistakes are inevitable, but our success is dependent upon the ability to act swiftly and professionally to mitigate damage, and to identify learnings so we avoid repeating the past. Here are five tips for handling on-the-job mistakes that minimize the damage and help to keep your reputation intact.

  1. Fess up.  Take responsibility for the mistake – don’t try to pass the blame or ignore the issue. Run the mistake by your closest confidant until you can articulate an unemotional explanation for the circumstance. Then reach out to your manager to discuss both the mistake and a possible solution.
  2. Shift into damage control. Use the situation as an opportunity to show commitment in action. When a mistake is tackled head on with a sense of urgency, it can actually end up strengthening team relationships and benefitting the organization by identifying weaknesses within check and balances, processes or procedures.
  3. Solve the problem. Hand-wringing and worrying won’t correct the mistake. Let your problem-solving skills shine by putting together a plan to correct or address the mistake as soon as possible. Tap into the know-how of others in the department and develop a timetable with key participants.
  4. Conduct a post-mortem. Once the emergency is over, take time to analyze the chain of events that led to the misstep and to how to avoid it in the future. Was it a lack of attention to detail, a logistics snafu, a miscommunication, etc.?
  5. Move forward. Once the situation has been resolved, set it aside. Resist the temptation to continue apologizing or over-discussing with team members.

On-the-job mistakes can range from a simple etiquette faux pas to a major disaster that costs an employer thousands (and sometimes millions) of dollars. Whatever the case, tackle each head-on and learn from your mistake — your reputation will be strengthened or weakened by what comes next.

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