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When Mistakes Are Made

Dan Bobinski
March 30, 2005 -- By Dan Bobinski 

Seeing as how every company is made up of human beings and human beings are fallible, it’s only natural that mistakes will be made in business.  It’s how mistakes are handled that can make the difference between keeping and losing customers, or keeping and losing employees.
With regard to customers, restaurants are a good example. An acquaintance of mine, Susan Miller, tells the story of getting the wrong food at a rather fancy restaurant.  The waiter practically tripped over himself correcting the problem, and only charged half price for her meal.  The result? Susan felt good about how the mistake was handled and is looking forward to her next visit to that restaurant.
The point is that when mistakes are made, own up to them and customers will appreciate it.  Try to cover them up or deny them, and you will lose customers.
Why? Because people want and reward honesty, not deceit. 
But customers are not the only group that needs honest dealings. Employees do, too.  This is not to say that we should rush to make all employees happy no matter what, but too often employers go to the other extreme, and they treat employees as second-class citizens.
I know a man named Robert who worked for a retail outlet. Coworkers admired his fifteen years of faithful service, but management had begun to take him for granted. When Robert expressed ideas for improving operations, he was scoffed at.  Imagine his frustration when the company hired a consultant and paid him big dollars to make the same suggestions that Robert had made!
Just because someone works in an hour-wage capacity does not mean they’re an idiot!
Robert’s company applauded the consultant’s ideas and sought to implement them right away. This was intellectual dishonesty – and a huge mistake.  But even when it was called to management’s attention, no apology was given.  So arrogant was their response that Robert left the company in disgust a short time later.  All the company needed to do to keep this valuable employee was apologize, and I’m sure Robert would have stayed. 
In fact I’m confident of it.  Robert told me so.
A similar event occurred a few years ago when I did some research on the importance of interpersonal skills for middle managers.  As you can imagine, the perspectives were different among senior managers, middle managers, and hourly workers.
When I presented my findings to senior management, they noted the differences and agreed that some changes should be made in management methods. Hats off for their intellectual honesty.
But when I presented my findings to the middle managers, I couldn’t believe my ears. They discounted the input of the hourly workers, saying, “What do they know?  They’re only hourly workers.”
Excuse me? 
Nobody is walking on water anymore, so to put a twist on an old phrase, if you put your pants on like everyone else, you’re not all that different from everyone else. 
When offenses or mistakes are made, a simple “whoa—I’m sorry, I’ll get that fixed” will do.  It’s not rocket science. It’s just personal responsibility combined with intellectual honesty and a pinch of good old-fashioned manners. 
Customers and fellow-employees will really appreciate and value the uprightness of it all.  Apologies are sign of strength, not of weakness.    

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© 2005 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information on condition that you send the text as an integral whole along with complete information about its author, date, and source.
Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, the President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc., and the co-author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.
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