The Devil in (Overlooking) the Details: How to Recover from Mistakes
Written by Kimberly MacArthur Graham on June 11, 2014
As a consultancy that budgets and bills by the hour, and whose work is invariably deadline-driven, we are often working inhumanly fast – on multiple projects. This does not support meticulous work and that is why we proof things multiple times. Ideally, the proofer has never seen / read the piece they’re reviewing, so we get fresh eyes and brain cells that don’t already “know” what we’re trying to convey. We also have clients give final approval on every piece.
And yet, occasionally, we still miss a transposed digit or a caption that doesn’t match a photo that was swapped. Or sometimes, someone else (a printer or a reporter) makes the mistake, but we still have to clean up the mess. We have shared stories and a few uneasy laughs with our colleagues over these mistakes, but we take them very seriously. After all, our clients are paying us to be perfect.
So how do you recover when your team delivers something that is “slightly irregular”? Below is the Layer Cake Mistake Recovery Checklist. I hope you don’t need it, but just in case. . .
1 – Immediately pursue any avenues of corrective action. Brainstorm quickly on options, but don’t waste time. This is when those great relationships with vendors come in handy!
2 – Notify the client of the mistake and your plan for corrective action. Depending upon the mistake, the client, and the potential impact, have someone of adequate authority handle this. Accept responsibility without excuses. Listen to their response carefully and be open so you can learn from it.
3 – Speak candidly with anyone on your team who was involved. Don’t make it personal, but make it serious, investigative, and educational (for both / all of you).
4 – When the mistake is yours, acknowledge it in your billing – and let the client know this as soon as possible.
5 – Examine your processes and personnel (experience, workload, competencies) for the root cause of the mistake. Random events rarely are. Look closely; be objective.
6 – Design and implement changes to avoid the same mistake in the future. When appropriate, share this with your client and even invite their feedback on your ideas. This lets them know how seriously you take the incident and your quality of your work.
Having a plan may not save you from typo-demons, but it will keep them at bay by smoothing the recovery process so that you can learn from it.