We have all done it; messed up on an important project, made a huge mistake by assuming or simply using bad judgment on the job. The aftermath is horrible. You feel like your job is in jeopardy and you are not sure what your next step should be to redeem yourself, your credibility, and your image. Don’t fear my fellow colleagues; there is a way to get back in the game! So pull yourself up, come out of hiding behind your desk and face the situation head on.
Step 1: Admit to the mistake. Yes, believe it or not, it is very hard for people to admit they played a significant role in the error. Often times they are busy playing the blame game because they are so scared of losing their job if they were to admit they were actually the one with the bright idea that went left. Don’t bring other people into the mix when it was your project. Own your part in this. It’s not the end of the world; it is just a hiccup in the process.
Step 2: Offer your help in correcting the mess. Oh yes, you are not done until the mess is fixed. Sure, you may feel like you shouldn’t be a part of it because you are the reason why everyone is scrambling to fix the catastrophe, but the truth is you are actually the best one to help. Do not forget that you have been involved in the project and know the major and minor details about it. Remember, everyone that is rushing to help still has to build their knowledge, the knowledge you already have. You will be a great resource to the team in this area. Ask your boss if you can help to fix what went wrong because you do have that prior hands-on experience and knowledge. It takes a lot of courage and humility to be involved in a project where you contributed to the set back. Even if your boss does not want you involved, at least you have shown him or her that you are willing to clean up the mess you’ve made.
Step 3: Ask for feedback from your manager. Take this approach only after the dust has settled and the project is complete. You know you have messed up, you know what had to be done to fix it, but you may not be 100% sure on what decisions you could have made that would have avoided the mistake in the first place. Correcting a mistake may not reveal where you went wrong. The clean-up routine can be very different from the initial decision making process during the project. For example, should you have asked for some help and guidance before you made a change? Did the project require a larger budget approval? Was there a protocol that you overlooked? Believe me; your employer will appreciate your willingness to learn from your mistake before you move on to your next project. Your boss wants to feel confident that you will be able to successfully complete the next project and I am sure you would want to have that confidence too. To accomplish this, you will need to have an open line of communication.
I know it can be very awkward after you have messed up. You don’t want to make eye contact and you want to stay hidden because you may feel that being out of sight will keep you under the radar. The one thing I have learned in my career is that being bold and courageous demands respect from your colleagues. This is a great leadership quality. There will always be mistakes and hurdles during your career; however, how you handle those challenges can make all the difference.