Avoid Management Mayhem When Making Mistakes
When I took over this magazine, I was fortunate enough to receive some laudatory comments about my arrival. Note, the comments came from others, and now that we’re approaching my second-year anniversary, I hope they feel the same way.
One of the things that I’m reasonably proud of in my years of working on the publication side of the HVACR business is the dearth of mistakes I’ve made, which I’ve had to correct publicly. I’m not suggesting there weren’t more, but very few complaints came back to me requiring a correction.
But I’m not bragging, because everyday life is the great equalizer. In my first issue of Distribution Center, I had an error because I allowed the misspelling of a person’s name. I didn’t actually make it, but it happened on my watch, and for those of you who don’t realize how this works, the editor is like the captain of a ship. If something goes awry, the captain is responsible, as is the editor. Period.
I’m talking about errors because we all have to learn what to do when we make one. While my focus is on the publishing side, errors in business happen frequently, and how you handle them is critically important if you want to retain a customer or vendor and maintain goodwill.
I like the way the Wall Street Journal handles corrections. It’s usually Page 2 under the title "Corrections & Amplifications."
The Wall Street Journal prints the error and then the correction. They blame no one, and they keep it simple and clean. (Without placing you into a journalistic debate, there is a school of thought on corrections that says you NEVER repeat the error, simply print the corrected version.)
Going back to my lack of errors, I’m sure there were some errors that appeared during my tenure that no one either “caught” or bothered to contact the editor (me) about. I know of one instance where I attributed the wrong city in the table of contents to a well-known wholesaler. Ouch. I never heard from the wholesaler.
If we make an error in this publication, let me know. We’ll print a correction ifit’s an issue of fact. If you disagree with the wording of something or how it’s interpreted, we might have a conversation. After all, every editor has the advantage of the editorial prerogative.
What steps do you take if it’s not Distribution Center? If you see something that you believe is in error about you and your company and it is an issue of fact, don’t hesitate to contact the media outlet. If they leave out a point of view, though interpretive, you can offer a different view. TV news, for a variety of reasons, is far less likely to issue a correction.
For media errors, here are a few tips:
• Send your request to the editor unlessthe media outlet has an alternative. The Wall Street Journal provides an email address and a toll-free number. When you consider they generally have six issues per week with hundreds of stories, often written under a daily deadline, it’s a magnificent effort;
• Stick to the facts. Back to my earlier comments, if a date, figure, name, title and so on are simply wrong, ask for a correction.
• If a statement offers what you consider is the wrong conclusion or only a partial explanation or if an important element is missing in the story, offer your side of it.
• Urgency helps. The longer you wait to correct an inaccuracy, the less likely you are to see the correction. Contact the media outlet immediately. They should print or broadcast the correction at their earliest opportunity.
• Correct it now. The beauty of the Internet (if that’s where the error appeared) is that the editor can post the correction almost immediately. If it’s print or broadcast, you can’t change the article or video and are left with the correction;
• Some media outlets apologize for the error; some don’t. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t. If your media don’t apologize, get over it. It’s the clarification that matters.
• Make the request for a correction in a clear and polite way. Editors are human, too. No one (OK, almost no one) ever made an error purposefully.
For business situations, the rules are similar, but allow me a few suggestions.
• Sorry. I’ll go to my grave in amazement as I’ve witnessed a lifetime of how apologizing in most cases eases the tension when someone errs. If you made the error, apologize with sincerity. And quickly. If someone made an error and apologizes to you, be gracious in accepting. In recent years, I’ve been stopped twice by a police officer for a minor traffic violation. I’ve never received a ticket. “Sorry, officer, I know I did something stupid” really seems to work for me. (I recommend avoiding the minor traffic error in the first place.)
• Cool. Be cool, as Elmore Leonard would say. If it’s your error, explain it in the most straightforward, neutral tone that you can muster. Sincerity helps. Then offer the proper course of action to correct the misstep.
• Date. A simple, “I hope you can take steps to rectify this situation by…” makes sense. This way, if they don’t comply, you have fuel for further follow-up. (Plus, it adds a little urgency to the request.) If you’re at fault, tell them when you will fix the error.
There is a closing quote about all this from an English fellow, Alexander Pope: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”