Owning up to your mistakes

One of the things that we’ve been working on as a company is doing a better job of client side communications like keeping folks informed about what’s new in the marketplace and areas where we have special insights where we might be able to help them improve. Obviously the idea there is to ensure that our clients know what we can do to help them and take that opportunity to engage us to solve those types of problems. So a part of that is we do a lot more writing and outward facing communications via email then we’ve ever done before. We’ve had a very light editing process which has worked fine since we started doing this and we’ve never had an issue. Well recently we sent out a client facing communication with a misspelling in the subject line. This wasn’t just any misspelling; we actually spelled assess as asses.

While that is attention getting I’m sure and maybe more people will take the time to read it then they otherwise would have, it’s probably not how we want to portray ourselves as a company. Anyways, as soon as we noticed it we had a lot of internal debate over what we should do with regard to the email because clearly some people would notice it and some people wouldn’t. So it was one of those things where the internal debate of what it meant from a marketing standpoint was should we just let this go in hopes that people don’t see it or should we come out and talk to it? Should we essentially own our mistake and know that for some people, the fact that we made that mistake at all was going to be a big negative and was going to reduce our stature in those people’s eyes? On the other hand if we didn’t own up to it some were people were certainly going to still notice it. Where was that going to put us? What kind of opinion would that make for somebody? These were he questions we were trying to answer.

So we talked it back and forth and finally we came to the conclusion that we just had to own up to it. As we were going through the process of coming to that conclusion, I couldn’t help but think of things with my kids. It’s so hard to get them sometimes to admit that they did something wrong or that they made a mistake because they really want you to be proud of them all time. So as we moved through the process of figuring out how to respond to our mistake we learned a lot about how we made the mistake in the first place.

One of the things that we wanted to do was make sure that we didn’t make that mistake again and what I was interested in as we went through that is how many people actually owned the mistake even if they weren’t directly connected to the writing of it. It really hit home for me that each of the people that I talked to, a lot of them were owning up to the mistake themselves without real regard to how big of a role they may have had in the actual mistake itself. There wasn’t a lot of “we did this” or “we did that,” it was just “I.” I thought that was really powerful. It resonated with me and it helped me make what I thought was the right decision, which was to go up to the people you made the mistake to and say, “Hey I made this mistake and this is what I’m going to do to fix this.”

It made me think about how important it is to own up to your mistakes and in the end, it made the decision to go back out and talk to the clients that we’d sent that to a response because I recognized how that made me feel. The difference between how I felt when I talked to somebody who owned the mistake of and said, “I cant believe I missed this” or some variation of that vs. a response of something like “We must not have got that,” is huge. Accepting responsibility and saying, “I made a mistake and I’m going to fix it,” is a much more powerful statement to make and I think is universally acknowledged as such. Now I know I haven’t researched this but I think there’s a lesson in there in general on owning up to your mistakes and what kind of reaction it could have for the people that you’re talking to. Maybe the marketing answer is you wait and see who responds back and address it specifically with them because otherwise you’re bringing it to the attention to people who would have otherwise missed it. I don’t know what the well-researched answer is I just know what made sense for us and what felt right for us. I’d be curious to know what people’s thoughts are that and in particular, I’d love to hear from people who have marketing backgrounds on if we did the right thing from a business perspective?

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Priscilla Anderson

Joshua, what a helpful thought! I think it is awesome that you took the time to find out the integrity of your group, and it sounds like you as a leader brings it out. Thank you for putting these thoughts down, it helped me a lot. I agree it is very important to own up to your mistakes, but it is rare that most people do take ownership. Sounds like you have great group.

Janina Rey Echols Harrison

I actually had that question posed to me in an interview once. Do you own up to your mistakes? Yes. But I remember thinking it was such an odd interview question. It made me think about my integrity and how I wanted people to view me in my professional life and in my personal life. My children we teens then, so I went home and asked them if they felt I owned up to my mistakes at home. I think as parents we may not make those statements of having made a mistake so that our children can hear us, which gives them an example of how to behave. It also gives them permission to make mistakes and have failures and know that they can recover from them.

As leaders, it helps our staff if we have that type of integrity. They can make mistakes and have failures because it is part of our growth process. And own up to it knowing that it only earns them respect.

Priscilla Anderson

I agree, and I agree with what Janina said about our relations with our kids. I think that is so true, so that encourages me to go home and do the same thing. Thank you!

EH Rice

This brings to mind an incident from over 20 years ago with the first President Bush. It was at a press conference. The press had asked the President about some sort of a fiasco that had occurred in his administration (can’t even remember what it was). And, you could see the Press, acting like wolves, baring their teeth, getting ready to go in for the kill. And then President Bush stated: “That was a grave mistake and we shouldn’t have done that, and as the President I take full responsibility, and I want you to tell the American people that this will never happen again.”. I remember the press corps, it was as if someone had just knocked the wind out of them. They totally forgot any other questions they were going to ask. It’s OK to say you made a mistake, as long as you have a plan to fix it. I also learned it is OK to say something is broke, as long as you have a plan to fix it.

Janina Rey Echols Harrison

And if you don’t have a plan to fix it, remember the second part of this scenario is to be able to ask for help. Sometimes we can’t do everything by ourselves.

Priscilla Anderson

What a great comment, both from EH Rice and Janina – I tend to think I have to do everything by myself. Thanks both of you!