November 13, 2010
How to fess up to your workplace foul-ups
You may have heard about the surgeon who's gone public with the details of how he managed to perform the wrong surgery on a patient's hand two years ago. Breaking from the time-honored medical tradition of sweeping operating room blunders under the rug, Dr. David Ring's blow-by-blow account of his grave mistake at Massachusetts General Hospital appears in the recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
[Image by brdwatchr1]
In a recent MSNBC article, Dr. Ring offered his rationale for coming clean, saying, "I don't want anybody to make the same mistake I made."
As MSNBC reported, a combination of stress, a language barrier with the patient, and a sudden change in pre-op staff all contributed to Dr. Ring's error. By outlining the steps that led to the incorrect surgery, Dr. Ring said he hopes to help other medical teams avoid similar surgical foul-ups of their own.
As you can probably imagine, Dr. Ring has been both praised and vilified online. But regardless of what you think of Dr. Ring's present-day telling of this bungled surgery, much of what he did upon recognizing his mistake was commendable:
He immediately fessed up. Ring realized his error once he was back in his office recording his notes on the procedure. He then wasted no time cluing in his staff, his employer, and his patient on his mistake. Most career management coaches will tell you coming clean like this is the only way to go. The last thing you want is a manager or customer questioning your integrity.
He offered a prompt solution -- and a concession. Ring and Massachusetts General Hospital offered to perform the correct surgery on the patient and waived the cost of both procedures. (According to MSNBC, the patient also received a settlement from the hospital at a later date.) Again, most career coaches would advise a similar remedy: Giving a wronged customer a financial break or offering to stay late to right a botched project will get you much farther than some wimpy apology.
To Dr. Ring's fixes I would add:
Don't make excuses or blame others. You computer may have crashed or you may have been up all night with a sick kid, but that's little consolation to the customer or manager you let down. Instead of taking pains to explain away your mistake, work hard to right it. Then ensure it never happens again. That said, if there's a problem with the procedures and equipment you need to do your job correctly, your manager needs to know.
What do you think? Have you ever botched a big project at work? If so, did you fess up to your mess-up? What did you say? How was your admission received?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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