29 July 2008

Mistakes: We all make them, but how do we survive them?

Early in my career, I made travel arrangements for my boss and had him flying into New York City to one airport, but the meeting room and hotel were across town closer to another airport. I got a geography lesson when he got back.

I remember helping with a conference at another place I worked and as we approached the day of the conference we noticed that the attendance was low. It was discovered that someone in our Marketing Department forgot to send the invitations out.

My boss left me a frantic voicemail from the airport. The travel agent had mixed up his ticket and had her name down as the passenger and my boss’s name as the travel agent. He was having a hard time trying to convince security that he was the person that was supposed to be flying to Toronto.

How can we survive a mistake at work?

I have found that a sense of humour can be a real help when something goes wrong. My boss and I still laugh about the voicemail he left me from the airport, “Who is Linda and why the hell is she on my ticket?”

Timing is important however. He wasn’t laughing when he called, but eventually he did see the humour in it. I had checked the ticket for the time and date of the flight and to make sure he was flying into the correct city, but neither of us noticed the name switch at the top of the e-ticket.

Don’t let it happen again

Learn from your mistakes. Accept that it happened, take responsibility and don’t let it happen again is my best advice. You can be sure that I always check tickets with a fine-tooth comb after that incident. I have found that a lesson learned after making a mistake is usually a lesson that you will never forget.

Mistakes I have almost made

Sometimes the mistakes that I have almost made have left a big impression as well. My boss gave me a letter to send and told me that it was fine to go. I decided on my way to the fax machine to read it over and found a big mistake that would have been hard to take back. I now never let a letter go without my proofing it -- no matter what my boss has told me.

It is so easy to press Send on an e-mail, but have the wrong person in the To box. Some names come up automatically in the memory of your To box and if they have a similar name it is easy to pick them and not notice.* You should always check that the person's name and company name is correct before pressing Send.

*To delete those deliquent e-mail addresses, use the arrow key to move down until you highlight the address and then press delete.

Trust your instincts

If you think that you should take the time to proof a document, then do so. If you hesitate before sending an e-mail because you are not quite sure, then don’t send it until you check. If you have questions on a letter your boss has asked you to do and are not quite clear, get clarification before sending it.

We all make mistakes

Sometimes we make typos and they get by us. With the computer, we tend to re-use letters and save the new information over it, but sometimes we leave the old date on it or the letter is addressed to Mr. Smith, but the salutation says Dear Mrs. Brown. I have received many letters that have these errors in them and I have made similar mistakes myself. I have gotten into the habit of going through a mental checklist before I send a letter or e-mail out. Is the date correct? Is it the correct recipient and is there an enclosure referenced and have I included it?

Depending on the position you hold and who you are assisting, your mistakes can be more costly. Be careful and always take the time to check everything that leaves your desk.

Mums the word

An error in judgment when revealing confidential information is a mistake that will cost you and could result in you losing your job. Read your confidentiality agreement and make sure you know what your responsibility is to your boss and to your company. If in doubt, don’t say anything is my advice.