We'd all like to imagine that work will go smoothly 100% of the time. No mistakes, no blow ups with our bosses, no frustrations with the people below us. Just sunshine and rainbows every day. Huzzah!
Unfortunately, for most of us mere mortals at least, that isn't how it always works out.
So I thought it would be helpful to talk about damage control.
Specifically, here are two things you should do when things aren't going super smoothly.
Damage Control #1: When you're going to miss a deadline
The first thing I want to discuss is what to do if you're going to miss a deadline.
Most often, this happens because work is either taking longer than you expected, or you're being hit with multiple projects with competing deadlines.
The most important thing is, you have to correct your boss's expectations as soon as possible.
This is something most people do not do.
In fact, most people do the opposite! They pretend things are going a-okay right up until the last minute, when they finally have to admit to themselves (and their boss) that there's simply no chance to meet the deadline.
The wrong way to handle it
So, let's say that you're given an assignment due 4 days from now.
2 days away from the deadline, you realize, 'Oh, man. This is going to take me at least 4 more days. But I said I could get it done 2 days from now, so I'm going to try really, reeeeeally hard to hit that deadline!'
Then 1 day from the deadline, you think to yourself 'there's no way I'm going to hit this deadline, but I'm going to try, try, try!'
And now the day of the deadline you have to go to your boss and tell them "Boss, this isn't going to be done in time." This is NOT a good strategy.
Not only is this basically guaranteed to piss of your boss in the short-term, but in the long-term you've ruined your credibility and your boss's faith in your ability to get things done.
And now your bosses think of you like this guy.
The better way to handle it
The truth is, when you first got the assignment you probably knew it was a tight timeline. The best case scenario would be to bring it up right away and reset expectations before you even get started. Ideally you don't ever commit to something you shouldn't do, aren't qualified to do, or can't do within the requested deadline.
But let's say you decide to try and pull it off, because maybe you can pull it off and be the office hero.
With 2 days left, you realize this is definitely going to take another 4 days. You're going to miss the deadline.
As soon as you realize that you're likely going to miss the deadline you agreed to, THAT'S when you want to correct the expectations with your boss.
So go in with 2 days left to spare and talk to your boss.
You're much more likely to get a positive response and if you do that with enough heads up then the senior person can plan around it.
Maybe they can extend your deadline or say that it's a hard deadline, but they may assign you some help or cut down on the scope of the task. You'd be AMAZED at the number of 100 slide PowerPoint decks that I've seen cut down to 25 once the partner gets a call saying the meeting has been moved up a few days.
Either way, you and the partner are on the same page, and you have an achievable assignment.
(Here is something to think about in terms of the psychology of that conversation. Don't go in and say "Hey, I just want to let you know, I realized this is going to take me 4 days instead of 2."
Frame the conversation so that you and your boss are on the same team. Don't talk about it in terms of "Sorry I'm so slow". Talk about it under the assumption that you're great at your job, but because the work and the project is so big, you can't finish in the timeframe you initially agreed to.
Imagine the difference in your boss's perception of you, based on "Hey I can't get the work done in time" vs. "Sorry I'm so slow, I can't get the work done in time", vs. "Hey, I just realized this is 4 days' worth of work.; I've been pulling all-nighters to try to get it done by Thursday, but it's going to be a really tough deadline to hit without sacrificing on double-checking the work. Is it possible to extend until Friday?"
Yes, some bosses are just dicks, and it can't be helped. But most of them are reasonable and will respond well to a proactive employee who sets his/her expectations early and often.)
Damage Control #2: When you screw up
It is a fact of life - work long enough and you're going to screw up on the job.
I've screwed up on the job. The person you're working with has screwed up on a job. We all screw up and we all make mistakes.
The key is, you want to own your mistakes right away.
When a lot of people screw up in business or in life, they try to pretend it didn't happen.
They hope no one notices, and they don't say anything because they just want it to go away.
The problem with trying to hide your mistakes is that at least some of the time, you're going to get caught. And when you do, your boss is going to be pissed.
From a happiness point of view, hiding it is also going to leave you incredibly stressed and on edge, anxious that you might be found out.
You're much better off owning your mistakes and owning them immediately.
There's a great example from Charlie's work in the consulting world that I think really illustrates this.
Before helping me start Charisma On Command, Charlie worked in consulting. One day, he had to do a PowerPoint presentation for a client
So he drafted a deck, showed his boss the slides, and everything looked good.
They took the slides to the client, passed it around to all the people in the meeting, and when they started to go through it together it turned out that he just straight up botched a few numbers.
The senior consultant whom he worked with noticed and went through those slides as quickly as he could. Everyone in the meeting noticed the errors but it wasn't a huge deal and it didn't kill the meeting.
However, Charlie knew he screwed up and there was a call scheduled the next day with the whole team to talk about the meeting.
On that call, this senior consultant basically said "Charlie, wtf?! You really dropped the ball."
Now, Charlie could have started defending himself here.
He could have said "No, well, it's not really my fault, here's what happened" and tried to deflect blame.
Or he could have said "Oh, it's not big a deal" and tried to minimize it.
But instead, he says "You're absolutely right, I'm sorry I screwed it up. It's totally my fault and it won't happen again."
If Charlie tried to defend himself, he will put his boss in the position of an accuser and Charlie takes the position of defendant. Instead, he switched it from a blame game to owning it and going towards the solution.
And what ended up happening was amazing. The senior consultant actually ended up defending Charlie! He said "No, don't beat yourself up too bad. It could happen to anyone, it's not a big deal. Let's just talk about the next meeting."
A.) Charlie had a great relationship with the guy.
B.) Charlie took the blame. There was nothing left unsaid to scold him for. So the guy could either keep piling on and repeat himself, or he could move on.
So if you screw up, own it right away and change it from a conversation about blame to a conversation about solutions going forward.
The bottom line
Your bosses expect that you're going to screw up, miss deadlines, and make mistakes.
They might like to pretend otherwise (ESPECIALLY in finance), but they know it's coming. Even their all-time favorite "rockstar" analyst, the one they still daydream about longingly when their current analyst screws up, even THAT analyst makes mistakes.
The key is to get in front of your mistakes early, own them immediately, and move on. Make up for it on the next assignment.
It isn't very complicated.
- Do good work
- Have a good attitude
- Go out of your way to form relationships with your bosses
- When you screw up, follow the advice in this article.
You'll be killing it in the game in no time!
by the way, let me know in the comments if you guys like posts like this and I'll do more! Otherwise we'll stick to YouTube videos :-)
Mod Note (Andy): This week we're reposting the top content from 2016, this one ranks #50 for 25 of silver bananas.