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#711: Bounce Back From Mistakes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 05, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 05, 2011
I really screwed up at a client. It was an honest mistake, or at least it was unintended. My concern is that it may have caused problems in related areas of the company of which I am unaware. Consultants are supposed to be the experts so the gut instinct is to fix the problem quickly, tell those who are affected, and figure out how to not let again. Anything else?

We all make a mistake now and then. Most of us admit it to ourselves. Some even admit it to others. There are two concerns in a situation like yours for a consultant's mistakes.

First, you cannot possibly know the extent of the impact your mistake will have and the extent to which it ripples through the company and its stakeholders. A consultant cannot have deep insight into how a company's informational, social and power networks really work until they have been there for years. Therefore, you need to fully disclose to management and encourage them to disclose across the enterprise what happened. If done quickly enough, you might be able to stop the propagation of the mistake throughout the organization. Delay (e.g., seeing if you can minimize the damage yourself) can be deadly to your client.

Second, it is a cliché but research bears supports the conclusion that one of the most powerful sources of personal and organizational growth come from making, and fixing, mistakes. Air crews and hospitals both have technical environments with fast paced operations and hierarchical power structures. When mistakes in those settings are suppressed, they tend to amplify the likelihood of future hits to performance. As hard as it is, get the mistake out in the open, take your licks and own the process to make sure it won't happen again.

Tip: Take a quick look at an article on recovering from mistakes in business for some examples to give you heart and some references. As hard as it might be to keep pushing your mistake out in the open, you have a rare opportunity to turn your mistake into a problem solving initiative that benefits the client beyond the scope of your initial engagement.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  learning  professionalism  reputation  trust 

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Comments on this post...

Dan Callahan says...
Posted Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Mark -

This is a fantastic reminder. Thanks. My last major faux pax was in front of oh... about 400 people. I felt about 2 cm tall... Your advice is spot on... It helped me to almost celebrate the mistake and use it as a teaching moment. I don't take myself so seriously, any more, either. Being humble is a good thing, generally speaking.

Dan C.
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Mark Haas CMC FIMC says...
Posted Wednesday, December 07, 2011
In the spirit of admitting mistakes, in the third paragraph of the tip I did not mean to imply that there were actual "research bears" (caught in the wild) who demonstrate growth, but just that I didn't proof my text after changing my mind when writing "research bears out" and "research supports."
Permalink to this Comment }

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