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Come clean

Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday February 19, 2011

Kath Lockett

When you stuff up, don't cover up it's better to own up, writes Kath Lockett. We've all heard the saying, "nobody's perfect" yet, when it comes to the workplace, we seem to forget this. It's not job interviews or annual salary reviews that are the biggest challenge at work; it's knowing when to admit you've made a mistake.Anna* is a business development manager who still blushes at the schmozzle she made of a marketing mail-out a few years ago. "I was supposed to distribute invitations to 3000 businesses about our product launch but didn't check them before they were automatically sealed and posted," she says. "It turns out that the mail-merge program just added the first address over and over, so one guest received all of letters."Luckily for Anna, the business concerned contacted her a couple of days later. "I apologised profusely and ran over to my boss in tears. She assured me that there was still time to redo the mailing list and get the rest of the invitations out."This kind of mistake was a low-cost one in that was easy to fix in an achievable timeframe and didn't badly affect the event or the reputation of the company. But what do you do if the hopes of an entire unit rest on the outcome of your work?Harry works in electronic engineering and remembers designing a specific oil pump that would turn on when the factory tank was full. "It was months of hard work, research and testing and I was sure that it was ready," he says.At 3am he received an angry phone call from the night supervisor. "There had been a power failure that tripped the tank mechanism and oil was all over the floor. I was shown a stack of rags and told to start mopping." Harry's firm had to remove the machine and pay for professional cleaning. The company then developed a compulsory testing procedure for new machinery that included a thorough monitoring checklist. "My boss was annoyed but had seen that I'd cleaned up the mess and a better procedure was the result," Harry says.Remember that trying to escape the glare of an irritated manager can be nothing compared to the longer term damage of hiding a mistake or blaming someone else. Frances is a research scientist at a university who supervises several students and assistants and relies on the outcomes of experiments for future grant applications."The last thing I need is for someone to stuff up and not come and tell me about it immediately," she says."Accuracy is vital in research and to have data that is incorrect or [can] affect the integrity of other experiments just can't happen. Hiding a problem never makes it go away, it just gets worse."I may not be happy when something goes wrong but I want to be able to correct it and waste as little extra time as possible."She also says dealing with a mistake early can help both parties figure out why it happened and how they can avoid it occurring again.*All names changed.How did you handle your last big stuff-up at work? Tell us at mycareer.com.au/vote.WE'RE ONLY HUMANNever fear, you're human like the rest of us. Here's how to recover:Own up It is far better to get a quick telling-off from a manager at the outset than trying to shift the blame or hiding it. Dishonesty will be exposed and lead to lack of trust in your abilities, as well as additional costs in rectifying lingering problems. Frances agrees. "I respect my colleagues more for admitting their mistakes."Take action Stop kicking yourself or crying and instead focus on coming up with a better solution. Speak to your manager and show how you plan to rectify the situation and ask for their agreement. Be as quick and effective as you can and keep them updated on progress. You'll be regarded as someone who is eager to improve.Show what you've learned When the mistake is dealt with, tell them what you did differently the second time and what the outcome was. "They'll be more likely to support you because you're not avoiding them and are trying to improve," Harry says.Get back on the horse Nothing says "quitter" more than refusing to do the task again for fear of failing. Getting back out there shows your boss and your colleagues that you're willing to learn and extend yourself.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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http://www.mechanics.com.au/mechanics-articles/2011/2/19/come-clean/