Dear Aunty B,
I have a star young employee whom I am grooming for a management position in our fast growing start-up. He has just cost me a $70,000 client through a silly mistake he made. The client was a champion of our business and responsible for us getting other work in our industry. I am so angry I could throttle him. What is the appropriate response?
George, Gold Coast
Calm down. Of course you want to throttle Dunderhead. We would all like to throttle Dunderhead on your behalf. But George. You are facing a test of your leadership and entrepreneurial skills here.
When we survey entrepreneurs we find the most successful, while often perfectionists in nature, are capable of accepting mistakes in their ranks. They have a forward focus – which means they don’t hold grudges (unless against competitors). They also see mistakes as opportunities to learn. And they encourage a culture where mistakes are tolerated – otherwise people are too scared to take risks – or even do their job properly.
So start here.
1. Has the client really been lost? Is this something that not even tickets to the Boxing Day cricket and a groveling apology from you could not fix? Can you point out to the client that you are a start-up, that systems have been fixed, it will never happen again and you value their ongoing support?
2. Have a look at your systems. Who was he reporting to? Where has the training fallen down? Is there an underlying cultural issue that needs to be addressed? Are your resources stretched too tight so that people are making unnecessary mistakes?
3. Take Dunderhead aside and tear strips off him. You might need to give him a first warning so he fully understands the import of his crime.
Watch his response. If he is defensive, he is not general management material and you’ll need to watch him. If he gets it, then good. Discuss the way you have changed his training, reporting lines etc so it will not happen again.
Then George, treat this as a learning experience and move on.
And remember this:
It’s only a mistake if it happens twice. Then it is a BIG mistake.