A road paved with good intentions – what to do if you meant well but screwed up?


I watched a television programme recently where a business mentor was advising a motorbike company who were in trouble due to the economic downturn. Part of the problem was that they could not deliver bikes fast enough and felt really pressured. They had not contacted their customers and simply hoped the problem would go away. They were losing $50,000 a month! The mentor asked them to ring all of the customers who had placed orders and paid upfront and ask if they could stand a few months delay. These were very hard calls to make but the result was that most customers were happy to get the bikes later so that they had the highest quality machine delivered to them. Production was now greater than the number of bikes required to deliver per month and they could get back on an even financial keel. So is honesty always the best policy?

We all have a tendency is not to bring disappointing or upsetting news but instead we make it appear that all is well and there are no problems. Similarly, if we make mistakes we are driven to hide them to avoid conflict and embarrassment. It works sometimes but rarely so. To my mind this simply stores up problems and in a complex business with multiple customers it is hard to keep track of the lies. Here is a very recent example of one of my mistakes and what I decided to do about it. After reading it you might look at something that has happened to you recently, how you dealt with it and what has been or might come to be the consequences. In telling this story I do not mean to preach but simply offer the scenario to you. What you decide to do with it is your decision.

You must have experienced times when all of your intentions were well meaning and you wanted to do the right thing yet due to one unwitting error on your part it all falls apart in front of your eyes. Well last week that is where I was! This is what happened and describes how transparency may have saved the day for me.

Picture this if you will, a couple of weeks ago I was asked to take on a task by a colleague who for very good reasons could not see the job through to the end. Being the team player that I am and because it was well within my range of expertise I of course said yes. Then things began to unravel.

The task involved several internal colleagues, two external partners and my organisation’s administration. The task appeared simple; complete some forms I inherited from my colleague by adding in my details and send them on to Admin and wait. The response came a whole lot quicker than I had anticipated. Essentially, the forms were the old format and were no longer acceptable. There were errors and inconsistencies in them and more information was required from the external partners. My first reaction was, “what the hell did I do to inherit this” and “this means a lot of work and running around to sort out”? It was Friday afternoon and this was only one of several important tasks I had to complete by the end of the day. The ingredients for disaster had all come together and I was feeling rushed. Complexity, uncertainty, competition and a short time frame were all conspiring. The trigger for chaos came in the form of an e-mail from the colleague who had passed on this nest of worms. He asked what was happening. I had intended a “for your eyes only e-mail” in reply to him and even asked him in the text not to discuss this with our external partners until I had clarified everything. Then it happened. I let my mind wander onto the next pressure point of the afternoon and I hit “reply to all”. The sinking feeling was excruciating.

I felt bad not so much because the overall task was a mess but I had sent this e-mail on to the same external partners I had asked not to be contacted! I considered ignoring the fact but rejected this immediately because the genie was out of the bottle. I felt very angry with myself as I am normally pretty unflappable and don’t make silly mistakes like this. “How could I have done such a stupid thing”? Then I thought,” Exactly what is the issue here”? My core concern was that on reading the mail my external partners might lose trust in me before I had even had chance tomeet them! To my shame I also spent a fleeting moment looking to see who I could blame for landing me in this position. Then I acknowledge to myself that I had gone into this task with my eyes wide open and I must accept the results of my own action in hitting the reply to all; there was no-one else to blame.

Immediately I took responsibility for my actions and sent a second  e-mail to all the same correspondents apologising for my “Friday afternoon” error. I explained that my request to withhold the text from the external partners was because I wanted to create clarity about the task before offering them a set of clear actions. I wanted to avoid e-mail ping pong. Until this course of action was I did not want to bother the external partners with the internal issues of my organisation.

Over the weekend I pondered on what my emotional reactions had been and what I should next do. I had gone through some childish responses based on fear of rejection. I had experienced anger at myself. My adult self took charge by reassuring me that all could be well if I continued to take responsibility and follow up with full transparency.

Today is Monday and I have asked to meet with my external partners; not simply to deliver their revised task but reassure them that I mean what I say and if necessary receive their criticism and possibly anger with good grace. I hope that this may redress the balance and they can get to know me a little better. We will see, I have not had the meeting yet!

Nevertheless, I already feel better about myself and how I handled this situation. It tells me that I will make mistakes and I cannot hope to control other people’s responses to my actions. All I can do is take responsibility for what I do and move on. Honesty can be uncomfortable at times but the long term results are generally rewarding for everyone. I am sure that something similar has or will happen to you. You will always make mistakes but the consequences of how you behave may last a very long time?

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About Gary R Coulton

I use my 30 years experience as teacher, learner, facilitator, mentor, trainer, manager, leader, biomedical researcher, intrapreneur , executive and sports coach to create “teams for change and re-invention”. I have developed the concept of “Adaptive Intelligence” to support individuals, teams and organisations in their quest to understand and take advantage of the “Change Paradox”. I have created a range of innovative courses and training systems including “How to achieve like an elite thinking/business athlete”. I live in North Surrey, UK with my Wife and Daughter and enjoy coaching Kayak paddling technique, travelling and learning a new thing each day.
This entry was posted in business, Coaching, confidence, Honesty, Leadership, Manage, Management, Personal development, Self-awareness, Success, Transparency, Trust. Bookmark the permalink.

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