What do you do when you make a mistake in business?

I’ve written before about customer complaints and how best to deal with them – but there are plenty of mistakes to be made in business that are not related to customer complaints – they can affect our relationships with suppliers and employees and even affect the way the entire brand is perceived.

I believe there are very few mistakes that are so big we cannot come back from them, given the right frame of mind and attitude. Mistakes are a fantastic learning opportunity and also an opportunity to show others how you deal with it when things don’t go to plan.

Some mistakes we make because we don’t know any better. When I started a business without a business plan, it was because I didn’t really know enough about business to understand that a plan would be of help. I fumbled my way through until I got to the point where I ended up taking time out of the business to attend Cranfield Business School and learn how to run the company I had set up and grown without a concrete plan. 

There are other mistakes which we make because we just did something wrong. We knew better, but for whatever reason on this occasion we did the wrong thing. These are perhaps more difficult to deal with because we don’t even have the excuse that we didn’t know any better!

All mistakes are different of course, but whether they are large or small there are a few things we can do to recover from a mistake made in business and move on with our heads held high.

  • Firstly, we must admit a mistake was made, own it and take responsibility. This can be hard to do; many of us have a tendency towards apportioning blame and even feeling like a bit of a victim. If this is you, I would suggest you give up any hope of success in business, right now. Admitting when you have made a mistake and taking responsibility for it is key not only in business but in life. As the business owner, you are responsible for what goes on in your company; no ifs, no buts. The buck stops with you.
  • Be kind. Admitting you’ve made a mistake and taking responsibility for it doesn’t mean beating yourself up about it. Or beating up a member of your team! Learning to repeat a simple phrase like “everyone makes mistakes” can make a world of difference to yourself and to those around you. Making a mistake is not the end of the world; after all, we are all only human.
  • Be honest about it. Whoever is affected by the mistake, whether it is employees, customers, suppliers or someone else, the best thing is to be honest. This might mean drawing people’s attention to a problem before they’re even aware of it – which can feel daunting and somewhat counterproductive – but people always appreciate it when you own up to a mistake, instead of whistling nervously as you pray nobody notices. Tell the people affected what has happened, and what you’re going to do to fix it. If you don’t know how you can fix it, it’s always worth asking the people it affects how they think you should rectify the situation.
  • Learn from it. Mistakes are brilliant learning opportunities. Whilst there is no benefit to be had in apportioning blame, sitting down with the relevant people and dissecting exactly what went wrong and why can have major benefits. Even if what went wrong was that a particular person forgot something, you can as a team sit and figure out ways of preventing this happening again – perhaps automated reminders. Don’t waste a huge amount of time on this; it doesn’t need to be a forensic analysis. Just find out what went wrong, and think about ways to avoid it going wrong again next time.
  • Leave it in the past. Once your mistake has been made, no amount of complaining or apologising will unmake it! There is no point in constantly raking over old ground, so once you have established the facts and taken learning points from it, move on. That doesn’t mean that you should pretend it hasn’t happened, rather that it’s not something to be brought out at every team meeting or appraisal.

We all make mistakes, both in business and in our personal lives. Anyone who tells you they don’t make mistakes is either a liar or delusional. With this in mind, it’s better to approach every mistake as an opportunity to grow and learn, than to label it as an outright disaster. In both business and personal life, if we an approach difficulty with an attitude of “how can I learn from this” everything can become a positive experience in the long run.

Written by Dawn Myall

Comments are closed.