“Uh Oh…”

As a child, if I broke something or ruined something, my mother would never lose her cool but rather say “there’s more where that came from.” It’s not that she didn’t reprimand us if we did something wrong, but an honest mistake was an honest mistake and that was forgiven even before it happened.

In work, people make mistakes.  I remember when I first started working I was nervous about not just making mistakes but for people seeing that I made a mistake. As I learned more about what I was doing, I made fewer mistakes but also learned to proactively address the potential of things going wrong.

When I would make a mistake, you can be guaranteed that it was factored into the next plans so I eventually became a bit of a detailed-oriented project manager. So that if things went wrong, it hopefully was limited to a few things rather than a lot of things so they could be fixed both fairly quickly and/or without using every single resource. The project was completed, was likely completed well, and either a screw-up wasn’t noticed or it was managed.

Which brings me to the topic. I recently read of things to “not” do while managing a crisis and one was:  Don’t Overreact If Your Employee Created the Crisis. While I challenge the word “crisis” because I think people overuse it, but the concept is don’t come down on the employee if a mistake is made. Unless you hired someone who purposely screws up, remember that everyone – everyone – will make a mistake.

As I matured in business, I would often tell people working for me variations of the following:  Please let me know if something goes wrong because…

…things can be fixed up until they can’t be fixed. 

…I may be upset but I’ll be more upset if you don’t tell me.

…you won’t learn if things always go right.

I factor all of this into projects I manage and I can sum it up by the following:


Talk About It:   Encourage team members to be open about issues and problems – particularly junior level colleagues. Discussing the problem and evaluating solutions often factor into the process.

Stay Calm:  Don’t lose your cool if something goes wrong – lead by example and work to resolve it – don’t use up a lot of time and energy trying to assign blame. Clients want things to work, not focus a lot on what went wrong. Although a lot of people never have time to participate in a post-event review – they are important and this is the “where” to discuss what went off-plan and how to fix it for next time.

Walk Through: Here, when I develop a plan I try to walk through each phase. In my head, I will literally say “So and so gets this probably around 9 pm and gets involved with another issue and my message falls to the bottom or the next page in Google mail and so I should either send again or send around 9 am to be in the morning mail…”

Years ago, when I worked at an agency, the account executives faxed (yes, that long ago!) a document to the big pharma client. When I asked if the client had received it, the person said, “well, I faxed it over and know it got there.” I then asked “Is the fax machine in the same building? Are the faxes picked up/delivered to the individual? Was it inadvertently attached to another fax?” I then said, it’s not delivered until you know the person has received all of it.  In other words — the job wasn’t faxing the papers, the job was getting the fax to the client.  

Off-Plan Stuff Will Happen: Have plans in place to manage the things that go wrong. It could include everything from a special contact number to alert of problems to a person solely dedicated to managing problems or issues when they arise. Make sure your team is very comfortable with the process though.

So when something does go off plan (i.e., wrong), don’t lose your cool because things always go wrong.  Next time, plan for it and as part of planning, remember:

  • Talk About It
  • Stay Calm
  • Walk Through
  • Off-Plan Stuff Will Happen

And ‘there’s more where that came from…”  There always is.