Let’s start by accepting the fact that no one is perfect; we all make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are inconsequential and other times they can be major blunders. No matter the gravity of the error, two thoughts will naturally go through your mind. Can I fix it? If not, can I hide it? It is human nature to want to protect your pride – and your job – and here is where the problem lies and where the dilemma is aggravated. Even if you are a conscientious worker, for a moment, the mental process will be something like the following Q&A flowchart:
Links to A4 and hi res poster at end of article
Looked at in this way it may seem a bit silly but it isn’t so far away from the truth. Also, it doesn’t just apply to your general staff. I’ve seen this process openly discussed by various people I’ve worked for. Ultimately, no one is exempt and the principle applies to all ranks, from labourers to Heads of State.
So, what’s the answer? Honesty is the Best Policy and Practice. No matter how big the mistake, you have to bring it to the attention of everyone involved. Don’t hesitate, do it immediately; the longer you wait the harder it is to reveal the truth and you risk heading back into the vicious loop of the flowchart above.
As a manager you have greater accountability and you should demonstrate that you are not afraid to admit to making mistakes. If you don’t terrorize your staff for their occasional mishaps they will most likely be honest with you as well. Instead of overly reprimanding employees it is better to involve them in finding a solution to put right the mistake. Productivity wise it helps in identifying errors earlier and to rectify them faster and forces people to understand where they went wrong. At the end of the day, it helps them not make the same mistakes again.
Even if you tend to work alone and your actions don’t cause other casualties, usually, a silly mistake can be easily fixed by yourself. In these cases I still maintain that it is good practice to let other colleagues know what happened, alerting them of the difficulties in your job and at the same time showing them you are truthful.
Finally, don’t kid yourself, even if you insist on being deceitful with everyone (and yourself) and you manage to hide the slip-up or pin it on some innocent bystander you will become obsessed with the secret and having to carry on the charade for years to come. Even a small error can snowball out of control and have worse consequences with time. However cold and calculating you are your conscious won’t leave you in peace and the fear of the truth coming out one day will haunt you.
So, bite the bullet, take a deep breath and show everyone that your Policy is Honesty.
For a high resolution version of the flowchart click here. Warning: BIG 12Mb file 4961px x 3508px.
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Get a smaller pdf version here for A4/A3 printing.
Credits: My wife, Cristina, for her creative ideas for my artwork. 🙂