Posted on: October 09, 2020 Backstage, Team

 

Mistakes happen. It’s inevitable. But there’s no arguing that life – and our practices – operate better with fewer slip-ups. 

Something occurred here at my firm recently that I wanted to share, because I think it contains some valuable lessons in communication and team leadership. 

My marketing team and I created an inspirational poster for CPA practitioners and we sent it to about 300 members of our program.

We created the content here in our office, then enrolled our friend Cartoon Bob to add the graphics. Finally, we sent it to the print shop we usually work with and trust. 

Unfortunately, when we received the finished poster, it was far from our expectations. 

Upon this discovery, what did we do first?

 

Before getting emotional or assigning blame, we asked, “How and why did this happen?”

We looked first to ourselves. We traced our own steps. We examined the emails, instructions, and materials we’d provided to the print shop, all the while willing to take responsibility for any mistakes made on our side. 

We had initially sent a mock-up of the poster to our print shop rep to ask if it was something she could print for us. She let us know it wouldn’t be a problem. Then, we made some updates to the poster design and sent her a new version for printing.

Everything on our end checked out. It appeared that the mistake was the printshop's. 

So what did we do?

 

We reached out to our print shop rep to let her know something had gone wrong. However, we didn’t get angry or belittle her.

We simply conveyed what we’d learned from tracing the process and asked for some insight into what happened on her side.

After some investigating of her own, she found that she’d received our second email with the new poster design attached, but she just assumed that the attachment was identical to the first poster we’d sent her. 

In short, she printed the wrong version.

Our next step:

 

We politely let our print shop rep know that since the poster was not done the way we wanted it, we would like the shop to print an expedited, correct version for free.

Our rep was very understanding and agreed to our proposal. 

There are lessons here for CPA practitioners, and here they are:

 

1. Mistakes are a Fact of Life

Everything in life is some form of trial and error, and it takes time to get things right.

That’s just a fact, and it’s unproductive to get angry about something that’s an inevitable part of existence.

 

2. Best Laid Plans

There’s a saying that, “We plan, God laughs.” Planning is great, but it doesn’t make us immune to unforeseen messes.

Things go wrong, and nothing and nobody is perfect. 

 

3. Forgiveness Breeds Trust

If you lose your temper and insult someone for their mistake, they will be immediately conditioned to believe you are “unsafe”.

They will always be on their guard with you and will never fully trust you. They might even resent you. This is especially destructive when it’s a member of your team.

They may never again want to invest their best selves in a project for the firm for fear of an unkind reaction. 

 

4. Damage Control Requires a Clear Head

If you’re going to reverse and recover from a mistake as deftly as possible, you’re going to need to think clearly.

Dwelling on negative emotions like anger or frustration will only cloud your judgment. 

 

5. Opt to Overcommunicate

Never be afraid of providing too much information when giving instructions. In fact, get into the habit of providing as much detail as possible.

For example, this printing incident taught us to add the word “UPDATED” and the date to the email subject line every time we send documentation that has been edited. Had we done this before, our print shop rep may have realized immediately that the attachment was different from what she’d previously received.

We’ve also been reminded of the importance of requesting confirmation.

Don’t be afraid to ask for confirmation that something has been received and/or understood. You’re not being a pest – you’re running a first-class operation. 

 

6. Follow-Up Doesn’t Negate Trust

Communicating with clarity and insisting on confirmation may feel awkward if you’re dealing with someone you entirely trust.

You may even be afraid of offending them. Again, these are just good business practices, and other people who strive for excellence recognize that.

Remember, even the best people can have “off days”. 

 

Come out a winner, even when things go wrong. Be ready for mistakes.

React civilly and clear-headedly when they happen.

Develop good habits of providing clear instructions and checking for understanding to reduce their frequency. 

 

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