Mistakes are bound to happen. Just as you make mistakes (c’mon, admit it) your subordinates will screw up. It happens. All organizations trip up from time to time… but the reaction is the key. How you handle these mistakes determines how your staff sees you, how upper management sees you, and possibly how the customer views your company.
Analyze The Situation
As soon as you discover something is amiss, gather as much data as possible. Hopefully a member of your team has brought the problem to you with some information. If you discover the problem on your own, investigate as quickly as possible what has gone wrong and the reason for it.
Immediately Address The Responsible Party
Once you’ve determined the who, what, where, when, and why of the dilemma, get the responsible party (or parties) in private to discuss what happened. Tell them your findings. Explain to them why this puts them – and the company – in a bad situation. Show the cause and effect so they understand the seriousness of their inattention or carelessness.
The only response I personally find acceptable is "I’m sorry. It won’t happen again." Anything else is generally just an excuse. Even if there is a reasonable explanation for what happened, if it can be prevented in the future… then it could have been prevented in the first place.
Once you’ve gotten the responsible party straightened out, they’ll often go above and beyond to help fix the problem. This may involve performing duties they are unaccustomed to or putting in extra hours to make up lost time. Be sure to acknowledge and thank them for help in solving the problem if they do.
Assess The Damage
Sometimes an error is not that big a deal. A minor inconvenience or delay. Sometimes a major customer will be upset by a screw up. Once you know what the problem is and how far off course the project is from being fixed, communicate with every stakeholder. This may include your boss, your team, customer service or sales, etc.
This can be a tough call to make. No one likes telling people bad news, and you’ll likely take some heat. Be cool and professional about it. Tell them you are working on a solution and will let them know as soon as you have a workable plan.
Determine A Course Of Action
Quickly get with your team and come up with a plan to get back on track. Usually it is best to come up with several options with various timelines. This allows whoever communicates with the customer directly to detail what went wrong and immediately provide several ways of keeping them from feeling the stress of the failure.
Develop Methods of Prevention
As soon as things are back on track, begin developing new processes or procedures to prevent the same thing from happening again. Maybe your team needs additional training. Maybe you need better software, or more people, or any number of things. But allowing a problem to occur again and again makes the company look bad… and really makes a manager look bad.