Owning Company Mistakes To Preserve Team Morale

As humans, we make mistakes every day. We even shrug it off, I’m human! But in business, pride takes over, and it’s harder to own up to our mistakes. After all, if we started the company, we should be smart enough to know how to run it without errors, right? 

Not exactly. Business owners fall short in many ways. We neglect to plan for the future, undervalue products and services, make a bad hire that costs time and money, don’t set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based) goals, ignore marketing, skimp on adequate market research, over/under-spend, and attempt to “do it all” — alone. 

Our natural reaction to a mistake may be to blame outside factors or to justify our actions. We worry that if our company or leadership appears fallible, employees and customers will lose faith in us. But research actually shows that people respond more favorably to companies that accept responsibility for their poor performance, and are more likely to forgive a brand that owns its mistakes, rather than skirting the blame. 

Owning mistakes underpins effective leadership. With telecommuting on the rise, we must be even more diligent to preserve team morale, trust, and culture when things go awry. Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier, said “Remote work stops working when you can’t trust the person on the other end of the line.”

Here’s our best advice when responding to a blunder to preserve trust with your remote team. 

Explain how we got here, and the correct path forward.

Depending on the severity of the mistake, emotion can overshadow logical thinking. But panic, fear or anger isn’t a proper response. Instead of panicking to our employees, we need to collect our thoughts and assess the damage before we approach the team. What caused the misstep? What went wrong in the process that lead to this result? What was the effect of the error?

Once we’ve identified the what, we must forge a path forward by answering a) how we are going to mitigate the damage 2) how we will prevent future mistakes. Leadership sets the tone for employees. If we respond diplomatically when a mistake has been made, it tells our team that mistakes happen, and that you’re allowed to make mistakes so long as you take the steps to make a correction and learn from the error.

Provide consistent updates.

When Buffer suffered a security breach, the company published a blog post which was updated 10 times with ongoing status updates. This diligent approach respects customers, who have questions and want answers as soon as possible. It also keeps remote team members at ease because they aren’t in the office to get information in real time. Create a channel in Slack called #crisisupdates or create an email thread that employees can check for new information. Trust is preserved when leaders foster an environment of transparency and honesty. The more you can safely share, the better. 

Respond as a team.

A specific member of the team may be responsible for the error, and they should acknowledge their part in the mistake, but as leaders, we are not in the business of publicly shaming. Use collective and inclusive language in all communication, like “we failed to double check this URL” or “we neglected to document the correct process.” Framing the issue as a team failure, rather than someone’s fault, shows employees we are a united front in the good times and the bad. Our company is only as strong as the weakest employee. Their mistakes are our mistakes. And if we’re being honest, their mistake could probably be traced back to a gap in training or an oversight from leadership, or a lack of communication about why something should be done a certain way. 

Remote teams thrive in a culture of transparency. By prioritizing open communication and mutual respect even when mistakes have been made, you will demonstrate integrity as a leader and help employees feel supported and encouraged to stay engaged in their work, take risks, and continue learning. 

If you’re interested in learning more about what an Executive Virtual Assistant can do for your business, contact us here. Our team will help you determine how your business can benefit from our Priority Executive VAs.

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