9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Get Back on Your Feet: 3 Steps to Coming Back From a Major Error

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, November 2012
Written by Ray Barishansky, director of the Office of Emergency Medical Services for the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

We've all heard about them - managers who make a critical error and it appears their career is over.  The error in question can involve anything from a financial issue, such as reimbursement or budgets, to personnel issues or just dropping the proverbial ball in any of the many precarious situations that comm center managers deal with every day.

So what do you do?  Try to hide your mistakes?  Deny they existed?  Blame them on others?  The answer is D -- none of the above.

Obviously, a great deal depends on the specific situation -- e.g., how forgiving the organization is willing to be, how seriously others were hurt/impacted and how early in the manager's career the mistake occurred.  We can made some generalizations, however.  Historically, managers who have come back from major errors are those who own up to their mistakes, forewarn colleagues, try to solve the resulting problems and -- after the lesson has been learned -- move on to think about something else.

Before we go into depth about the healing process (for lack of a better term), understand that there are a lot of areas that you, as a manager, must be very careful walking into.  These include, but are certainly not limited to, sexual harassment, various areas of employment law, the disciplinary process and how it is meted out, as well as age/racial discrimination.

Also, understand that you, as management, will be looked at under a microscope by those around you, so you must follow all policies to the letter of the law.  If there isn't a policy that covers the specific area or action, ensure that your actions have been approved by someone higher up in the organization -- and that you have proof of this approval.

Step By Step
Following are some essential steps to make amends for things that go wrong in your professional life:

Step 1: Admit to the mistake.
Rather than hiding or denying it, admit to the mistake and put all your focus on how to fix or blunt the results.  Use the experience to reassure yourself about your ability to cope with adversity.  Use the failure as an opportunity for self-examination, and try to gain an understanding of what occurred and why.  Although difficult (OK, extremely difficult) to see right now, over the long term this experience is likely to give you a keener sense of your own strengths and weaknesses.  It also may actually make you a better manager of other people, because you've blown it once yourself.

Step 2: Take control.
Take control of any part of the problem you can and try to figure out how you were responsible.  This can include revising policies and procedures, as well as closing any loopholes that allowed for things to go off track.  If necessary, warn others, including your boss.  Ask others what you can learn from the circumstances, especially what you should learn about yourself.  Initiating such conversations isn't easy, but the payoff may be more enduring than the crisis itself.

Step 3: Apply what you learn.
When you find yourself in a situation similar to the one you were in when you made the critical error, take a moment to think about what went wrong the first time and what measures you have put into place since then.  Consciously avoid making the mistake again.  Even if it entails asking for assistance (and it may), don't rush into action.

Be Transparent
One of the most important elements to implement after these steps is transparency.  We are in a business built on trust.  Whether trusting our calltakers and dispatchers with their most intimate moments or trusting our managers to effectively utilize public funds, the lay public has a certain image that they expect communications centers and agencies to live up to.  When a mistake occurs, the community should be advised of it in a professional manner, with the overall message expressing accountability and transparency about what occurred, what type of discipline there will be (if any) and what you, as a publicly funded agency, are doing to ensure this mistake does not occur again.

Additionally, you should use this as an opportunity to remind the community of your mission and some of your past community accomplishments.  In a nutshell, give as much relevant and accurate information as possible about how the company is responding.  In the Internet age, heroes and villains alike become instantly famous on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  If you do not get in front of a crisis, chances are you'll see the results of that action on the Internet in moments and feel its repercussions for years.

Learn & Move On
Everybody trips, and some even fall.  As a comm center manager, the key is not to focus on the fall itself but rather on what will get you back on your feet afterward.

For a real-world example, we need only to look as far as Martha Stewart.  One moment she was on top of the world with an empire of her own; the next moment she became embroiled in a stock market scandal that ended with her in jail, forced to pay hefty fines and publicly embarrassed by mocking headlines in some of the world's most-viewed media.  But that wasn't the end of her story.  Martha did her time, paid her fines and  held her head high, learning from her mistakes, ensuring they would not happen again and clawing her way back to the top.  Today, the debacle that could have ruined her career is a mere footnote to any discussions that involve her.  Martha understood the steps outlined above and implemented them in her own way to ensure that her mistakes were not fatal.

Failure can be a powerful teacher.  The lessons learned stay with you forever.  The trick lies in understanding what went wrong, constructively using what you've learned, and having the courage and tenacity to bounce back.

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