So You Made a Costly Mistake at Work. Now What?

We’ve all been there: the moment you realize you’ve made a big mistake, and you are on the line for repercussions. Depending on the severity of the mistake and your tenure with the company, a timely resolution may solve your problems. Other times that situation, and your job, may not be salvageable.

I’ve made quite a few mistakes in my career and have learned a lot about myself and the leaders I work for as a result. Here are a few ways to deal with mistakes and the best way to fix them.

Own Your Mistake

Don’t try to hide the mistake or find a scapegoat even if other people were involved. Figure out your part, where things went wrong and what piece of the mistake you own (if it’s the whole problem, so be it!). Then, figure out who you need to ask for help to fix the problem you’ve created.

Apologize

Don’t overlook the impact of a sincere apology. The buck may stop with you, but if it doesn’t, realize that other people are will be held accountable for the mistake you made, so being apologetic is important.

Bring Solutions

Instead of wallowing in your mistake, focus on finding a solution. Once you understand where things went wrong, figure out how you can fix it, who you will need to help you — perhaps your boss or a leader on a different team — and how you are going to explain the problem and their role in the solution to them.

The former CEO of Baxter, Harry Kraemer, told of a policy he had with his direct reports by which they got one point for bringing a problem to him and 100 points for bringing a solution. Leaders want employees who bring solutions instead of problems. Those are the people who rise to the top.

Communicate

Sometimes mistakes affect clients, customers or third parties. If this is the case, determine whether these groups need to be notified and the best way to inform them. It may be best to resolve the situation first, but other times it’s better to communicate immediately.

Solve

Do everything within your power to ensure the mistake gets remedied quickly. Stay the course throughout the solution even if the resolution has been taken out of your hands. Learn how the solution was determined and executed.

Document

Show your manager and the parties affected that you understand where things went wrong and how you will ensure it doesn’t happen again. You need to build back trust. Apologizing and demonstrating you understand what happened is crucial.

Don’t Repeat

The No. 1 rule of making mistakes is don’t make the same mistake twice. Learn, move on, and share your mistakes with others so they don’t make the same ones.


About the Author | Jessica Schaeffer

Jessica Schaeffer is director of marketing and communications at LaSalle Network, a national staffing and recruiting firm.