Everyone makes mistakes. Over my career I have a ton and I have watched others make them too. Some big, some small. Everyone makes them.
As a leader in a company, I think there are few true fatal mistakes. But there are lots of ways that the initial mistake can lead to infection, more pain and ultimately, like the butterfly flapping its wings in Japan and triggering a Tsunami in LA, the small errors compound and kill you.
I just watched someone make a mistake — and have so much respect for how they handled it and the leadership they showed, I want to write it down as a playbook (to come back to next time I f-up).
- When you find the mistake — recognize it as a mistake, own it as your own, identify who it affects and figure out the best path to fix it. Fight the urge to figure out how it happened
who contributed to the mistake. This can wait. The first thing you must do is mitigate the damage and change course.
- Shine a light on the mistake to all involved — assume you are the first person to identify the mistake and take the time to let everyone impacted by the error know there is an error. Tell your boss, tell your team, tell everyone. Be specific about the error and what you are doing to fix it as well as what you need them to do/what the next steps are in the process.
- Fix the mistake
- Let everyone know it is fixed
- Communicate the damage done — make sure everyone is aware of the actual damage the mistake created.
- Communicate the potential damage that mistakes of this kind could cause — and explicitly identify why the damage was less in this case
- Analyze the mistake — Figure out the process that failed and the workflow that needs to change in order to avoid this type of mistake in the future.
- Make change — implement process and, if needed, personnel changes to reduce the risk of the same type of failure in the future
- Move forward
- Find another mistake — go to step one.