I followed an event on zoom recently, held by an online content creator. It was essentially a webinar, so they were talking over a PowerPoint presentation, explaining different concepts and sharing information, specifically regarding one of their areas of expertise.
There was one slide which, I believe, contained one of the key points of the whole event. And this slide had a mistake.
The first thing the content creator said was that someone was going to get fired.
I was really surprised by that statement, even if it was a joke.
I must add, they immediately said something along the lines of this being their responsibility, ultimately.
But still, that initial reaction really stuck with me and I wanted to try and unpack why.
As mentioned, this was said as a joke and they later reiterated it was ultimately their own responsibility, so this is not a personal criticism or attack, but simply a way for me to share the reasons why this stood out to me and what I have learnt in the last few years.
1. Avoid finger pointing and take ownership
Although “anonymously” (i.e. without calling someone out explicitly, of course), it rings close to finger pointing. Usually (I can’t speak for this case specifically) this means blaming someone specific and letting them take the blame, shame and expecting them to fix it. Generally the issue is more nuanced and there might have been a series of events that led to the mistake. As someone who is in charge of a presentation, you need to validate the slides you use. If you trust someone else to prepare them and don’t double check, it is still your responsibility. Ultimately it’s the presenter’s responsibility to guarantee the quality of the event, I believe. I think the idea of being a team and the importance of working together towards a goal is a key pice to keep in mind, usually.
2. Don’t use fear as a weapon
I really appreciate when a manager, leader or anyone in a position of power does not rely on guilt and shame, but rather tries to support and be compassionate.
A great leader eliminates fear, a terrible leader weaponizes fearGary Vaynerchuck
Of course if someone you work with, especially if you are their manager, makes a mistake, you should let them know and work towards this not happening again. But ensure this is done in private and with compassion
3. Ask Why?
The main way to avoid repeating mistakes is to understand why sometuing happened and how to prevent it in the future. This will help get to the bottom of the issue, and it might turn out that the blame is not on the person that seems to have made the mistake initially.
There is a famous technique called Five whys, which is an iterative process that will help you investigating the root causes of an issue. I saw a post on LinkedIn which had an example similar to this:
Problem: I was late to work
- Why 1: there was traffic
- Why 2: I got in the car during rush hours
- Why 3: I woke up later than usual
- Why 4: the alarm didn’t go off
- Why 5: I had forgotten to check and change the battery
Going back to the webinar example, maybe this presentation was done in a rush? We can dig deeper and try to understand why. Is it the person who prepared the slides’ fault? Maybe they had not discussed priorities or someone requested a last minute change which did not go through the slides. As mentioned before, the situation is usually quite nuanced and it’s important, I think, that the manager or leader encourages improvement and growth, rather than using worry and threats, even if jokingly.
What do you think? What would your reaction to someone else’s mistake be? Let me know in the comments below!