Alright so for the last two weeks we’ve talked about a big mistake that our employee Kelly made (she relied on her memory rather than protocol and consequently ordered the wrong color tile) and just how upset our client Pam was (so upset in fact that she wanted Kelly off the project). We covered how to turn the situation around, and the exact steps, effort, and creativity, we needed to do that, moving Pam from furious to apologizing to elated. And if you missed all of that, you can find it here in Part I and II.
This week, it’s Kelly’s turn. It’s her turn to get our focus, our effort, and our creativity in righting the situation, just like we did with Pam. However rather than providing “We’re sorry” flowers and delicious dinner delivery, we’ll be providing a roadmap for Kelly to regain our trust.
Here’s Where We Left Off with Kelly
So, let’s go back to where we left off. You got the call from Pam about the wrong tile being laid and you called Kelly into your office. She walked in, sat down, and immediately noticed that something was wrong. Her smile quickly turned into a frown. You told her the news, and she was mortified, terrified, and embarrassed. You let her know that the client has requested that she no longer work on the project and that you’re going to fulfill the client’s request; however, she will continue to work on the project in the office.
You share that she has two hours to come up with a creative solution, and more importantly, that her job is secure at the firm and you value her contributions. You let her know that right now her only job is to figure this thing out and that you know with her hard work and creativity, she can do it. You give her a final reminder that people do make mistakes and that this will be discussed later after the problem has been solved, and she’s on her way.
She comes back two hours later with two possibilities in hand, 100 miles away there’s a store that can order the tile but won’t get it in for weeks, or 200 miles away there’s a store that has the tile in stock but it’s not ready to ship. So with getting it packaged up and out the door, it probably won’t arrive for a week or so. She shares the information about the tile layers’ availability as well. Ok pretty good so far, but not great. You ask her what she thinks the best solution is. Her answer?
Lead Your Employees to An Answer But Let Them Provide It
Well, in our story we didn’t cover it as I wanted to leave an element of surprise and mystery. But for the sake of talking through how to handle this, let’s say that she said, “Since it’s the fastest, I think it makes the most sense to get it from the store 200 miles away.” You agree and say, “Next week though seems too far away and I’m worried that if we wait too long, Pam will only become more angry. Plus we’ll have to use the referred tile layer rather than Fred (our original tile layer) which worries me. It may worry Pam too. I don’t want to introduce anything new right now that might upset her. How do you think we could get that tile even sooner, like, by tomorrow?” She answers with, “What if I go and pick it up?” Ahh, yes, thank you for mentioning it.
Now was that a coincidence that Kelly volunteered herself to drive 400 miles in a day? Well, clearly not. But how did we get her to suggest it rather than having to tell/ask her? Well by leading her down the road, but not forcing her to drink.
You let her know that this was her responsibility. She needed to own this problem. You knew what you wanted her to do, go and pick up the tile, but it was a lot better for everyone if she was the one who suggested it. She felt proud of herself for coming up with the idea to go and drive 400 miles in a day in the hopes of redeeming yourself. And you don’t have to feel like an insensitive jerk by suggesting it. So, it’s a win win. You led her where you both needed her to go, but allowed her the satisfaction of actually making the suggestion. Bravo, you!
We Need to Talk…
Alright so Kelly has suggested that she go and personally pick up the tile and bring it to you, so you can take it to Pam. Now what? Well, like you told her before, she’s still responsible for this project, just in the background. So, she spends Tuesday exhausting herself driving and Wednesday running around town finding the most gorgeous bouquets of flowers, and digging through Pam’s client profile to find out her favorite restaurant. She checks in with you periodically and sees if there’s anything else that needs to be done. Meanwhile, she does office work for you, that was supposed to be yours, as well, your time on this project had to come from somewhere.
Ok so we’re through the successful re-backsplashing and Pam’s over the moon and ready for Kelly to come back. Now what? Is it over? Do you move on like nothing happened, despite saying that you’d “talk about it later?” As really, these kinds of conversations are worse than nails on a chalkboard for everyone? Certainly not. That wouldn’t be fair to you, that wouldn’t be fair to Kelly, that wouldn’t be fair to your firm and its reputation, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to future clients. So what do you say?
Well on Thursday morning you call Kelly back into your office first thing. She hasn’t called to reconnect with Pam yet as you called this special meeting before normal business hours so no one else in the office will know. You ask her to sit down and let her know that now you’d like to talk about the situation more in depth. You ask her to walk you through the steps of how the mistake occurred. Now sure you asked her how this happened when you initially called her in to your office on Monday, but you didn’t have time for a lengthy description of the problem. Your focus needed to be on the solution, not the problem, as it didn’t help solve anything at the time. But now it does.
First Fix the Problem, then Prevent the Problem
Now you need to know how to prevent the problem, as you know that whenever an issue occurs and it’s been dealt with, you can’t just act like the problem has been solved. Sure the immediate one has, but not the problem overall.
So you ask her what occurred. She walks you through the whole Pam said gray and then she changed her mind, and even though she wrote down that Pam had changed her mind, she failed to check her notes while writing up the order. She says she’s sorry and that it’ll never happen again. She knows that it was a mistake and can see just what can happen when protocol isn’t followed.
Ahh, a failure to follow procedures and protocols. You know how important they are. You’ve taken nights, weekends, and lunch breaks carefully constructing them all and you run your firm like a well-oiled machine because of it. However, if people don’t actually follow that carefully constructed protocol, well then it’s not worth a hill of beans. So now what?
Well, you let her know that every day for the next couple of weeks you’ll be re-walking her through necessary protocols for not only purchase orders but also work orders. Then for the next few projects she’s on, any time she puts together a purchase or work order, she’ll need wait for your glance over and approval before they’re actually submitted. And in time, once she’s able to show that she’s fully aware and understanding of protocols and their need, you’ll move to periodic glance overs. Then if there’s a consistent showing of no mistakes and a consistent dedication to protocol, she’ll be fully independent again.
The process will be gradual. There’s no hard stop date. It’s a slow letting go of the reins, letting them slip through your hands over time as she shows you (and herself) that she’s ready for more and more responsibility. You’re showing that you do trust her, but that the trust isn’t automatic, it’s earned. And that it’s time for her to earn it through responsibility and ownership of the problem, and the future solution.
Following Procedures Consistently is Just as Important as Having Them In the First Place
Essentially, she needs to earn your trust back. And not just in her knowledge of protocols, but in her dedication to them. As that’s often times the problem. We spend soooo much time defining, redefining, and documenting procedures and protocols, and then employees say “oh, who gives a darn, I’m doing it this way” and then all of your hard work and consistency goes out the window.
But you can’t let that happen. You have to help employees understand why following procedures is so important. You need to let them know what can happen when procedures aren’t followed, and how they actually benefit from following them (they make fewer mistakes, have more successful projects, have clients who love, trust, and adore them, and gain more of your trust which leads to them working on bigger and better projects).
Help Your Employees Succeed
So the next time you have an employee make a mistake, remember to have them own the problem, and the solution. And if you have a specific answer in mind of how you want the mistake fixed, lead them to it, but let them ultimately provide it. Let them fully feel the pride and the responsibility of finding the right solution.
Then, help them to earn your trust back. Put steps in place for them to do so, and let them know that although you do trust them, it’s important for the process to be gradual. Let them know that you want to give them more responsibility but it’s crucial for both of you to see that they’re ready. Help them not only fix the problem in front of them, but also prevent the same problem from happening in the future.
Because if you have employees, you’re not only a designer, you’re also a leader. Your employees look to you on how to, and how not to, do things. They want to make you happy. They don’t want to make you, or the client, disappointed or angry. So show them what it takes to make you and the client happy. Show them just how spectacular they can be, by following the path that you’ve already trailed for them. And in turn, you’ll gain their dedication to making your firm just as incredible as you dream of it being
Let me know in the comments below, have you ever had to fix a major mistake with a client? If so, how did it go? I’d love to know!
And if you’re for looking for more ways to serve your clients exceptionally well, then take a look at what we’ve got for you here!