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The way news moves today (both real and #fakenews) I could write a post a day about how one U.S. company or another screwed up regarding public relations, customer relations, or employee relations. It could be United Airlines – pick one of many reasons – or Pepsi, or Chick-Fil-A. Every day, something.
This is not one of those posts.
I’ve been there on more than one occasion, and I feel for the employees involved. Some are carrying out what they believe to be their duty, and may well be exactly their duty, but the public sees it out of context of the person’s accountabilities. Some are simply not prepared for the situation they are in, but everyone else is prepared with their cameras.
I’ve made some big mistakes both before the age of social media and now in the time where mistakes can become viral. I once led a hiring effort that got labeled as the “hiring lottery” because the local newspaper reporter chose not to confirm details he heard about the process before going to press.
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Another time, during that same effort, a candidate called me very upset about the turn-down letter she received. I quickly reviewed the records I had and realized that a batch of potential new hires all received the wrong form letter. We worked over the next several hours to make sure each one was personally contacted, apologized to, and given the offer they had earned.
In the current era, I worked with an IT leader whose team was always working on improving their process. When their eagerness resulted in a large number of employees receiving emails with confidential information – well, it wasn’t pretty. No one was exposed in any terrible way, and the confidentiality breach was not inappropriate, it was just early. But still, a good warning to all involved as to how easily things could go wrong.
I can’t even bring myself to explain the worst one, but suffice it to say I was on the lookout for #gardnerisanass to be trending. I had a great response team who patched it all up before it got out of hand.
I’m not saying the these recent very public missteps on the part of companies that serve the public in big numbers were excusable. But they are understandable. We are humans. Airline employees work in conditions that I would never want to even consider. Creatives (I think that’s want the ad folks like to be called these days) are sometimes clueless in thinking their artistic process is free of bias, or believe that the purity of the message will win out over any perceived affront.
So if mistakes are a certainty – or at least very likely – you need to be prepared with a plan. Act, don’t re-act. There are three things you need to remember:
- Be good at seeing the mistakes quickly. When someone points it out, don’t get defensive or dismissive. Listen and consider the input.
- Own it. Again, don’t think or say that it could happen to anyone. It’s yours, and you are taking accountability.
- Deconstruct. You can’t plan ahead for every possible outcome, but once the dust settles you can figure out if the same problem can be eliminated from your future. You should also consider regular brainstorming sessions based on others’ mistakes. Could this have happened to us? How can we be sure it won’t?
We make mistakes. Be good at seeing them quickly, admitting that they were a mistake and need attention, and then putting in place a plan to avoid repetition. That’s how you make sure your next mistake – and there will be one – is a newer and better mistake than the last one.