I fucked up

30 October 2011

This weekend, I fucked up.

I don’t want to go into details about what I did or why, but I would like to examine what good can come from a relatively small mess up and what can be learned.
Depending on how public what you did is, you need to go into damage control immediately. Begin analyzing how to mitigate the issue as soon as possible after (or even before) the immediate threat has been taken care of. You need to figure out who to apologize to and what other actions you need to do to help stakeholders understand and feel better about the situation. Don’t dwell on the situation, you need to move on. What happened is in the past and just sitting around feeling embarrassed or otherwise guilty does not help the situation.
The first thing I would suggest you do when you make a mistake, large or small is too apologize immediately and mean it. Don’t give a non-apology apology as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson call it in Rework, but a sincere heartfelt apology. Say something that you would want to hear if you were in the other person’s shoes.
Next, you should make sure communication lines are open. If someone asks you about the incident, tell the truth. Don’t lie or hold back information because, especially at this point, it will be easy for people affected to spot your “spin.” Keep in mind, however, that those affected don’t need to know every excruciating detail, but they do want to know what happened, why it happened, and what you are doing to fix it.
Once these initial steps have been taken you need to begin to assess what happened. In a company a good way to determine the root cause of a problem is a Five Why’s analysis, but if it was a personal failure it is totally up to you to examine your behavior, determine why something happened the way it did, and take the necessary steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
If you are apologetic, open, and honest about the situation those affected will cut you a bit of slack. Everyone does things they regret and others can identify with that. They may not be entirely happy and their disappointment may linger, but the key to having them stick by your side is make sure you take the necessary steps to make sure the problem doesn’t resurface. If a problem resurfaces that you told people had been rectified, you will begin to lose credibility and that will really cost you.
After you have apologized, helped those around you understand, and taken necessary steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again, you have to get on with life. Realize that life goes on and that we only have a short time to make an impact. Doing nothing but feeling guilty or embarrassed does not add value and does not help you achieve your goals. Learn from your mistakes and realize that without acting foolish you aren’t truly living.
Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.