As an entrepreneur, making mistakes is inevitable. Some may be so minor that no one notices, while others may be huge and threaten the existence of your business. Every mistake is a chance to become better, because it is not the mistake that matters but how you deal with it.
Mistakes can be difficult. Our first instinct might be to hide somewhere you can’t be found, or shift the blame to someone else. These are natural, and show the vulnerability of human nature. The second instinct is more likely to accept responsibility, and look for ways to mitigate your losses. There are many ways to handle a mistake, and different entrepreneurs have different views.
#1. Tell the stakeholders the bad news early and often
In a contribution to Entrepreneur, Candace Sjogren is of the opinion that effective communication can make all the difference. She recalled how she and her husband have set aside Sunday nights to discuss the things which they have done and are not proud of. From this, she learned that it is better to face the problem head-on than to prolong it - even when it is inevitable.
As odd as it may seem, the moment you make a mistake, it is best to communicate it to the stakeholders it will affect. In a business, this may include your investors, board, employees, and partners. When walking into a difficult environment, you need your team to trust you - and they can only do that if you are transparent. Reid Mihalko has shared a formula for discussing difficult topics, which works as follows:
Fix an appointment with the person and let them know you will be talking about a difficult situation. This prepares them, so they will not be paralyzed with shock by the news. On the appointment day, remind them you have difficult news to share and try to predict to them what their worst reaction will be. This will help the recipient weigh their options prior to hearing the information. Now, open up on your mistake. You will discover the recipient will process the information more thoughtfully, and with care for your situation.
#2. Take responsibility
Speaking to Finance on the topic, Kelly Gurnett reiterated the importance of admitting your mistake immediately. Gurnett recalled how she sent a motion to be filed without attaching the most important exhibit to it. When she realized her mistake, she quickly opened up to her boss.
At first, her boss was furious but after a while calmed down and advised her to drive down to the clerk and fix the issue. The truth is that no matter how you try to hide your mistake, the other party will be quick to point it out as soon as they notice it - and they probably will.
#3. Think of a way to fix the problem
Calvin Sun, in a post to TechRepublic, highlights the need for you to be part of the solution if the mistake was your making. It is true that other parties may get involved along the way but if you are the lead architect of the problem, you are saddled with the responsibility of coming up with a plan to fix it.
It is not enough to exonerate yourself by opening up. You need to draw up a resolution plan to tackle the action. The plan needs to highlight the specific actions that must take place, the people who would take the actions, and the amount of time it would require to take the action. Those that may get involved would likely be your boss, co-workers, and customers.
#4. Build a relationship
You have to accept that once the mistake has been made, it cannot be undone. The only possibility is to control the damage so it doesn’t get blown out of proportion. Speaking with Forbes.com, Mike Muhney, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of two relationship management software Sage ACT! (Under its new ownership) and VIPOrbit, mentioned that for your business to thrive you need to build meaningful relationships, using authenticity and trust as your foundation. When these two ingredients are in place, people will relate better to your mistake.
When you get into trouble, you will realize it is those who are in close relationships with you, who will be ready to stake their necks for you - even when it temporarily burns bridges. The relationship is not an automated system you can set up and allow to run on its own. Relationships are maintained by conscious efforts. You have to keep a thorough record of all your relationships.
You can only maintain a good relationship with honesty; be where you say you will be, do what you said you will, and follow through on your promises. Maintaining your reputation requires discipline and diligence. Muhney identified the four key elements that must be present in an active relationship as intensity, time, reciprocity, and trust.
#5. Stay away from the press
The press is only good at fermenting problems. A little matter gets blown out of proportion for the sake of selling newspapers/getting page views. They rarely show up when you are on a smooth ride, but will dedicate their entire day to you if you screw up. You will then find yourself in the awkward situation of having to defend yourself. You will soon realize that your best defense is to remain silent, because anything you say will open up an entirely new wave of press attention.
If you have made a mistake that results in legal action, civil liability or criminal charges, the first advice from a good attorney will be to remain silent in order to protect your Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. This priceless advice is often thrown to the wind with life’s small mistakes. On a slow news week, the press can turn vicious and turn your business failure into a burning headline. You tend to feel bad that your truth has been twisted by the press to suit their pocket. This only makes your already bad situation, worse.
Inasmuch as this may hurt and go against what you stand for, the best reaction is to remain calm. They may have thrown the bait to draw you out. If you have already shared the news with those that matter, don’t bother about the rest of the world. Let them hear the news of your success after the hurdle. When you accept the bait and wage a battle with the press, it only results in more negative headlines which may be hard to quash. Less news is good news sometimes.
Unless you have killed your conscience, making a mistake will cause you guilt. To win the trust of your team, you need to own up to your action and express remorse to those affected. But you don’t have to wallow. There comes a time when you have to move on. Give yourself time to work through the situation, but have a deadline to get over your guilt and hold yourself accountable for your next action.
The most common mistake entrepreneurs make is missing out on important deadlines. It is very important to learn how to delegate duties to other people. When your team is occupied, you can browse through the archive of Freelancer.com to find professionals that can help you get through any task.
Everyone makes a mistake. What matters is how you manage the situation. We would be glad to read about your mistakes, and how you were able to manage them in the comment box.