4 Things to Do When You’ve Made a (COVID-19) Mistake

“When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.”  

– Paul Bear Bryant

 

Mistakes suck at the best of times—and yet they happen.

And FYI, this is hardly the best of times.

Of course, many wise people talk about mistakes as a step towards knowledge and an opportunity for growth, which sounds great on paper but definitely was NOT the messaging I got growing up.

Where I came from, mistakes were not cool.

There was an unrealistic expectation that mistakes wouldn’t happen and when they did, it seemed like everyone loved blaming the person making the mistake with some cruel teasing and a dollop of humiliation mixed in.

So you can imagine, it took me a long time to dismantle that garbage and willingly admit to making mistakes knowing, that if it didn’t kill me or someone else, there was life AFTER the mistake.

If you’ve been following my COVID-19 leadership series, you’ve already taken the necessary steps to return to the office safely or even keep some or all employees remote indefinitely.

But there’s a saying about the best-laid plans going astray for a reason. No matter how well we prepare, mistakes happen. They’re happening right now. Even when the stakes are as high as your team’s safety during a global pandemic.

Put another way—you might f*ck up, and probably already have. 

The point is, whether you’ve made a mistake or worry that you might, here’s how to move forward from a COVID-19 mishap—or any error, really—in a productive way that helps you and your organization grow.

 

STEP 1: BE PROACTIVE

One of my clients shared this story: 

When I was a kid, I spilled Orange Crush all over my parents’ light-colored carpet in the basement. If I’d told them about the spill right away, we could’ve prevented a stain. But of course, I didn’t do that. Instead, I pulled a bean bag chair over that ugly orange spot and hoped no one would ever find out.

It only took a few hours for my parents to figure it out—long enough for the carpet to soak up every ounce of that bright orange soda. The stain was there forever.

I can relate.

And like my client, it took me a long time to figure out that it’s always better to proactively call out a mistake than to try and sweep it under the rug.

Blunders never stay hidden for long, and the act of trying to cover it up makes the whole snafu MUCH worse. Your business can’t afford to lose the trust of its employees, and you all can’t afford to lose your trust of each other, so be up-front if you’ve made an error and encourage your team to do the same.

If you’re conflict-averse, this will be tough for you. Do it anyway. 

The stakes involved are the health of your entire organization, so any COVID-related problem is one you can’t just ghost.

Summon the courage to be proactive and call yourself out before anyone else does. Click To Tweet

And if an employee is proactive in announcing their mistake, don’t beat them up about it. 

There really is a chance here to collaboratively problem solve and strengthen the team while also reinforcing a culture where people feel secure in admitting that they’ve messed up, too.

Probably not a bad idea to remind you that many innovations are borne out of mistakes so keep that in mind as well if your first impulse is to exert more control and remove any chance of error as the only viable solution to any mistakes.

 

STEP 2: TAKE A BREATH

When you mess up, it’s easy to leap straight off the cliff and plunge right into the churning waters of blame and shame. 

Catch yourself before your brain starts down this negative spiral. Instead, take a few deep, slow breaths.

Remember, the landscape of COVID-19 is anything but smooth, and things are changing fast enough to outpace even the most dedicated researcher and planner. 

The mistake may not have even been an errant policy or violation. It could just be a course correction in response to rapidly changing circumstances.

So focus on your breath, and remember that old stand-by, the Serenity Prayer. Circumstances may be under your control, or they may not. You can only control what you can control, right? As you breathe, focus on discerning the difference. If you can’t affect change, it’s not worth worrying over.

 

STEP 3: ADJUST YOUR MINDSET

Earlier this month, I wrote about how to solve any problem with just one core philosophy. At the heart of that approach is mindset.

Your mindset is key whenever you determine any course of action, in your personal life or your business. 

This isn’t about doing anything “woo-woo.” It’s about getting clear on your priorities, your values, and the realities of the present moment. Once you’ve proactively acknowledged a mistake and taken a moment to breathe, you’re halfway there.

The other half is getting into a headspace where you can calmly look at the facts and determine how to course-correct.

There are a few ways to go about this. Meditation is one—and you don’t have to spend an hour alone in a dark room, either. You can ground yourself in the present moment for a minute or two to get your brain back on track.

Another way? Revisit your core philosophy. Reconnect with your why behind the work, or the organization’s mission. This will help clear the clutter of noise vs. what’s truly important to the company and the team.

However you choose to do it, make sure you’re setting yourself up to operate at full capacity in identifying a solution to the issue at hand.

 

STEP 4: DEFINE THE PROBLEM

Let’s say you made one of the 5 most common mistakes when reopening your business and didn’t think through social distancing everywhere. Kitchens and bathrooms consistently see crowds, and some employees are starting to complain that they don’t feel safe.

The problem ISN’T being back in the office—just a lack of foresight in planning. So learn from it.

The problem IS that your office has several contact points where people tend to congregate, and no existing system to manage it.

Now that you know what the problem is, you can find a solution. Can you reduce each bathroom to just a single stall that’s in use? Can you set up “shifts” for use of the kitchen, so only a small number of people use it at any given time?

Here’s another example:

Let’s imagine you’ve sent a long email to communicate your office COVID-19 policy, and an employee violates the policy. When confronted, they explain that they accidentally deleted the email and couldn’t find the policy for reference.

In this case, the core problem is that the policy isn’t published anywhere permanent, only disseminated by something as unreliable and transient as email. 

Consider where you could physically post it in the office, or store it in a virtual reference folder where anyone can pull it up at any time, or both.

Work your way backward from the surface problem to the root cause by always asking “Why did this happen?” Then figure out how to prevent a repeat. Click To Tweet

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Mistakes around how to handle working near one another during COVID-19 are common, and completely understandable. With all the noise out there, it isn’t easy to filter out the junk and keep up to date on just the best information.

So, when you or your organization stumble—and honestly, it’s a matter of when, not if—make sure you’re following the steps I’ve outlined to arrive at the cleanest, simplest solution. And then move forward from there.

Don’t waste time beating yourself up. Or your team either, for that matter.

When something goes wrong, have the courage to call it out right away.

Walk backward from the surface problem to the true underlying cause, and then fix the issue so you don’t see the same mistake twice.

The cleanest line to a solution may be as simple as a policy tweak or as complex as keeping some team members remote. Just make sure you know which problem you’re trying to solve.

For support in setting up systems to reduce mistakes before they happen, schedule a quick and free strategy call with our COO, Kevin Smith.

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