What would you do if you made a mistake that went all the way up to senior management?

Whether it’s something minor that got blown out of proportion or a significant error on your part, once word gets up to senior management you’ve attracted the wrong kind of visibility.

While there’s no magic wand to make problems disappear, fortunately, there are steps you can take to salvage the situation.

If you're in a similar situation or need to overcome negative perceptions, this is for you. One of my readers asked:

“I work in accounting and my boss mentioned that something I processed (not materially significant) is getting negative attention from his boss and their boss all the way up to the top. Is there anything I can do to mitigate the damage and ensure I don't lose my job over it?

Here are three steps you can take to fix even the biggest mistakes at work.

    1. Get clarity on the situation

    Start by finding out what actually happened. From there, you can determine if it’s something you may actually lose your job over and get answers to the following questions:

    • Why did your boss mention this to you?
    • What was behind their mention?
    • What’s the real message they're trying to give you now?

    Ideally, you'd like to have the presence of mind to probe more deeply and understand your boss’ message in your initial conversation. However, if that doesn’t happen, you can always go back and ask.

    Either way, it’s important to determine why your boss said what they said. Was it to make you feel bad? Was it because your boss took the blame and wants you to be grateful? Was it a warning to never do this again or does your boss think you need to take action and correct it?

    Which leads us to the second step…

    2. Step back and reflect

    After you have all the facts, it's time to take a step back and reflect. There are two pieces of information you want to get clear on:

    • What's important in the eyes of your boss and leadership?

    Even if you don’t think your mistake is significant or material, it matters to leadership. It’s critical to find out what’s important to them, because that's how you want to focus your future thinking.

    • How can you prevent this from happening again?

    We all make mistakes, it’s inevitable. The key is to make sure you learn from them. When you learn, you win.

    That leads to the third step.

    3. Plan your next step

    Now that you have all the information, it’s time to figure out what to do about it.

    Sometimes there's nothing you can do to change things and you just have to chalk it up to experience and move forward. But if you can fix the situation, do so to the best of your ability.

    Determine who you need to do damage control with and come up with a strategy to remedy the situation with each of the individuals involved. This is something you can do on your own or, better yet, with the help of your boss or a mentor.

    The way you conduct yourself after a mistake shows your character

    Use this as an opportunity to show who you are and how you roll. It’s a chance to figure out what’s the right thing to do and then doing it. The key is to keep calm and retain your composure.

    And no matter what else happens, you can turn any mistake into a win simply by using it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

    Remember, if you make a mistake that goes all the way to leadership:

    1. Get clarity on the situation
    2. Take a step back and reflect
    3. Plan your next step

    After you’ve taken these three steps, you can tell your boss what you’ve done to fix the situation, what you've learned from it, and how you'll keep it from happening again.

    It’s important to own your mistakes and having this conversation shows your boss that you’re thinking strategically and able to learn, grow, change and improve.

    Have a question about your career? Ask me here.