If only we lived in a world where we never made mistakes! We don’t, of course, and managers are no different. As we do err, success will come to those who learn to turn their goofs into gold. The golden rule is never ignore your mistakes – if you do, you will probably repeat them. In short, it is no crime to err; the crime is not to learn from the mistake and not to improve as a result. Turn your goofs into gold by considering the following advice…

1. Admit your mistake.

Never ignore a mistake or try to cover it up. Confession can be good for the soul.In management, it can sometimes be a very effective strategy.

Unless the mistake is catastrophic, a manager has little to lose by admitting an error. In fact, you will gain the respect of staff. By admitting your error, you lend credibility to those occasions when you are right; and your staff will be less likely to challenge your judgement if they know you are honest and as demanding of yourself as you are of them.

As well, you demonstrate that you value truth above excuses, and truth is what you will get in turn from your staff. If they know that you know that everyone, including yourself, is human, they will do their best for you.

2. Do not try to shift the blame.

As the manager, you are ultimately responsible for the final decision and for the error. Your job now is to find ways to remedy the blunder, not to find someone to blame. If you side-step accountability by manufacturing excuses or by being defensive, you lose everyone’s respect. Instead of becoming a learning opportunity, the mistake will simply become another exploding problem.

3. Assess the damage.

You cannot deal with a mistake intelligently unless you know how bad it is.

Consider first its importance – there is a great deal of difference between miscalculating product sales in one district and re-tooling a factory to produce a new product line with no customer appeal. Then consider its cost – there’s a great difference between a $500 goof and a $50,000 blunder. Finally, consider its implications for you, your unit, or the organisation. The significance of the damage will determine the extent to which you must move into damage control.

4. Determine the cause of the problem.

To learn from your mistake, you must find out why it happened. Only then can you take appropriate steps to prevent the mistake from recurring. Seek answers to such questions as:

How good was my planning? Did I allow enough time, enough money? Did I allocate the right equipment, material, and people? Were bottlenecks anticipated?

How good was my information? Was it incomplete, unreliable, out of date? Were my sources appropriate?

How good was my timing? Did I launch the plan or initiative on the wrong day, in the wrong week, month, or season?

How well was the plan supervised? Did I rely too much on others? Were they as committed as I was? Did I check progress adequately and often enough?

Was anyone else at fault? We’re not always personally to blame. Was a supplier late? Did a supervisor take an unauthorised short cut? Did someone miss a deadline? You’re not looking for a scapegoat, just a cause.

Did we run into unexpected problems? Did equipment break down? Did we encounter a maritime strike?

Were communications poor? …..and so on.

In answering such questions, you should be able to pinpoint the cause of your mistake. You should then be in a position to cash in on what you have learned.

5. Prepare a plan of action to remedy the situation.

Any remedial action is usually dictated by the causes identified. Often, simple mistakes have simple remedies. If, for example, you underestimated costs, you must provide better budget estimates next time. For more complex resolutions, follow these steps:

  • Salvage what you can. Isolate those components of your original plan that worked well. They’re reusable. Now attend to those parts that did not work…
  • Explore new approaches. Investigate new ideas and solutions through reading, consultation, and discussion; and get these new methods down on paper.
  • Look for flaws in the new plan – don’t replace your original mistake with one of a different kind.
  • Assign tasks and implement the new plan.

Ask yourself: ‘How much smarter am I for this experience?’

6. Encourage all staff to be alert for mistakes.

If you ensure that your staff understand that mistakes are opportunities for growth and that they can learn from everybody’s blunders, you and your employees should be prepared to disclose errors as soon as they appear. Indeed, if members of your staff tell you that you have made a mistake, applaud them for it – for three reasons: