- Wise Words -
oops... you messed up, now what?
by Gregg Phalen
Everyone no matter what stage of their career is going to learn. In this section current and former Early Stage Professionals set out some of the lessons they have learned. Below, Gregg Phalen a veteran from the online space (he started at AOL in 1994 before most of us had even thought about "digital" as a career) talks through how to deal with something we will all do many times over (unfortunately!)... make a mistake and then work through it.
D'oh. Ugh. Where's my Mommy/Daddy? What Should I Do?
Ok, here's how this goes: You have a job. You like it. You work pretty hard at it and, far as you can tell, are held in relatively high regard. And then it happens. You screw something up -- fairly badly, but...perhaps not SO badly that you can't attempt to downplay or try to hide it altogether. Maybe, mayyyyyybe if you're lucky...no one will even notice.
This WILL happen to you -- particularly if you have any sort of operational role. You will have thoughts of sweeping it under the rug and be generally inclined to avoid the uncomfortable spotlight of shame -- or to try pointing it elsewhere. You shouldn't. Here's why: People who screw up and don't take accountability are poop-heads*.
There are certainly numerous other ways to achieve this unfortunate status in the workplace, but skirting accountability is well toward the top of the list. It's also among the easiest to avoid unless your ego is so massive that any exposed wrinkle in your aptitude will create a black hole that destroys the universe. All you’ve gotta do...is raise...your hand.
Rise Above It
Note that being a rookie is no excuse here. Your Early Stage Professional status should buy you some slack on making the mistake in the first place, but not owning up to it is more character flaw than novice oversight and will be recognized as such. Consider that rookie individual contributors who screw up and hide it evolve into managers who screw up and hide it and those are much more dangerous/despicable.The risk of being recognized as someone unwilling to take accountability is far worse than the reward of being so darn perfect.
Sure, making a meaningful mistake at work sucks. But the "reward" for being fake-perfect in the workplace is actually some combination of being-in-the-wrong-job and working-for-a-boss-who-can't-handle/accept-that-you're-not-perfect. Neither of these are circumstances you want to persist for any meaningful length of time. Plus, it's like cheatin' at checkers -- there's no satisfaction in a job well done when it actually wasn't and you just got away with it. There's just the emptiness and eventual paranoia that comes with stashing your blunders under the floorboards.
Now let's contemplate the flip-side. Consider the satisfaction of thinking to yourself at any moment it becomes relevant that, whatever other grievous flaws you may have, you don’t shrink from accountability. Did you, for example, (and ask yourself if I seem clever enough to have made this up) melt your company's call-center that time by accidentally emailing the entire member base a message intended only for a small group of elite customers which strongly encouraged them to call customer support asap? Yeah you did. Well, y'know what? Say it with me now: “I’ve made a huge mistake.” And open wide. Because humble pie ain’t super-tasty, but it’s much better when you bake it yourself.
Being Heroic. Owning Up. Making Your Mommy / Daddy Proud
As people in the office become aware of your screw-up, they will note the location of the bullet hole and think the following three things, most likely in this order:
Now go back and read that list of how people will react to your heroic admission of ineptitude, but now consider which one sticks. Yes, 1 and 2 hurt. But #3 makes a lasting impression. As long as you don't make blowing things up a habit, you get slack on #1 -- deep down everyone knows we're all just a bunch of idiots doing the best we can. And #2 people actually secretly appreciate. It's a genuinely nice feeling to NOT be the person who jacked things up so royally we almost had to call the cops -- and you created that for them. But #3 -- establishing yourself as someone who can be TRUSTED -- is ultimately much more important than being someone who never goofs.
Lesson: Everybody makes mistakes. Quality people own them. The bullet holes heal, and leave really neat scars.
* Editors Note. Changes were made to ensure the language was "Safe For Work". Apologies to Gregg Phalen for removing the profanity.
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