How To Handle F*ck Ups

A Line In The SandYou might not believe this, but, on occasion, I f*ck up.

Take, for instance, last year when I totally botched Brian Schwartz’s 50 Interviews site transfer. He wanted a MultiUser WordPress installation, and I was confident I’d be able to deliver on time.

I couldn’t, Brian had two days of intermittent outages, and I had to face the facts that I had really messed up. I asked Brian to give me a quote I could use to relate the story:

“Moving my site to a new server proved to be far more stressful than I could ever imagined, and Nick probably underestimated the actual work involved in moving 8 different sites to a new server. While I did experience some stress during the 2 days my site was up and down, and while Google even knocked be off many of the rankings.. within a week, everything was back to normal and working smoothly, even Google managed to put me back on the search pages where I had been dropped. I appreciate Nick being available when I called and sticking with the job until all was back to normal.” – Brian Schwartz, 50 Interviews.

When I realized I’d bombed, the first thing I did was tell Brian how sorry I was, cut the project cost to half of what I’d estimated (I had actually done SOME good work there, before screwing up), and repaired the damage for free until everything was set right.

I’m very open about my successes and my failures – 100% transparent. I, sometimes unfairly, expect the same from everyone I interact with. Personal or business, I want straightforwardness and clarity – anything else is disrespectful to our very limited time (yours and mine).

I’m fast to point out anything I recognize as ethical fallacies (even my own); I don’t do it to be a jerk or to drag anyone down, but because I expect everyone to play fairly. In most cases, my criticism is met with a burned bridge.

I’m surprised that grown adults can behave so irrationally; if someone cares enough about you to point out a powder keg on your bridge, why would anyone respond by lighting the powder keg on fire? Burning bridges is an act of war; if I help you by pointing out your douchebaggery (straightforward though I may be), what good does it do to flip me off and continue being a douchebag?

When I f*ck up, here’s what I do – it seems to work pretty well for me:

  • Say “I’m Sorry” to any stakeholders – if you stepped on someone’s toes, it’s the least (the very least) you can do;
  • Learn the who, what, where, why, when, and how of the situation so you can offer an explanation (if they care) and avoid repeating the problem in the future;
  • Bend over backwards (if the complaint is legitimate) to correct the problem to the stakeholder’s satisfaction, or if it was less-than-legitimate, offer a compromise that works for both;
  • Actually correct the problem/follow through with the compromise;
  • Talk openly and honestly about the whole process, from start to finish – with any stakeholders to the situation;
  • Accept the consequences and move on as fast as possible.

It’s impossible to avoid f*cking up entirely, so always mitigate damage whole-heartedly. Feelings and ethics are subjective; if someone cares enough to tell you there’s a problem, it’s important to listen and react objectively. One discontented voice usually becomes a choir, especially if the complaint is completely insane.