Three Things to Do When Everything Goes Wrong

A few weeks ago, I dropped by our local market to pick up some milk. As I walked towards the entrance, I  couldn’t help but notice the special of the week posted up on the outdoor signage, “Chzburger and Utter Sale”. I did get a good laugh because our community has a reputation for spelling blunders on business signs, but this one was a doozy. Apparently the manager had just been made aware of the error when I walked in the door because she was standing face-to-face with the culprit. As I watched the body language of this employee begin to wither in front of every patron who could hear the manager’s loud and demeaning correction, I felt compelled to write this blog.

In my experience, great managers use mistakes as teachable moments not weapons, and how they respond to those mistakes matters. I don’t know if this was the first mistake or the final straw, but what I do know is that correcting an employee in front of your customers and launching demeaning and discouraging words will not make things better. Her final words, “Fix it!” were not filled with magical, feel-good pixie dust either. As the employee walked away in dismay, I wondered how this could have been handled differently despite the obvious – praise people publicly, but discipline people privately.  Employees won’t learn from their mistakes if you make a public spectacle of them because then you become the problem.

American filmmaker Mel Brooks once famously said, “As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes.” Here are 3 things to do when everything goes wrong.

1. Remember the Goal and Your Role.

I understand that there are some mistakes that will rock your world and leave you gasping for air. I can still recall the day when I sent a not so flattering email about an important client and inadvertently copied her on it. Oops.  Within seconds, my boss was in my face with the look of panic. “Can we retract it?” “Did she view it yet?” My answer, “No and yes.” At that moment he had a few options…

  • Scream at me. Call me names. Discipline me. Fire me.
  • Take away my problem.
  • Make me own my problem.

While I was secretly hoping he would choose door number two, he chose to make me own the problem I had created for myself. It’s not easy to call a client and acknowledge that the unflattering words she had just read were not a mistake, but they weren’t meant for her reading pleasure. In the end, we both had a good laugh, and the client even agreed that my description of her wasn’t too far off base.

It is very easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment, and the knee-jerk reaction of the manager at my local market is not an uncommon one. When everything goes wrong, the first question should be, “What is the goal?” If you can look past the mistake and keep your eye on the goal, then it is much easier to deal with the problem. In most cases, there are two things that need to be addressed – the actual problem and the teachable moment. The teachable moment deserves the majority of your time and energy because it is an investment in your employee’s future. That’s the goal. Rather than reprimand your employee in front of customers or even privately, focus on helping them sort through the mess. The goal should be to help the employee to develop the thinking skills needed to decide how to handle the situation differently next time because there will be a next time.

The role of a manager is also to be the example. To influence employees by your behaviors and form their cultures by your actions. The HR department can’t do it. A mission statement can’t do it. A policy can’t do it. On a daily basis, property managers are influencing the culture in the leasing office. What examples are your property managers setting in your leasing offices? When everything goes wrong, how they handle mistakes can have a ripple effect. The example that was set in the “Chzburger and Utter Sale” incident probably resulted in a help wanted ad and a few lost customers.  I am pretty certain that wasn’t the manager’s goal. Leadership is about influence and motivation. A leader who can harness these powerful qualities and use them when everything goes wrong is someone I would want to work for.

2. Push the Pause Button.

Leadership is about relationships, and we most need to push the pause button when we know that our words or actions may damage the work relationship. I am not sure how the whole signage debacle happened, but I do know that there was no pause button involved in the conversation I witnessed. How employee mistakes are handled says a lot about a leader. There are some mistakes that you can sit on for a day and others which need to be corrected immediately. In this situation, the mistake needed to be corrected as soon as possible, yet the employee conversation could have been put on pause until the manager’s erupting emotions had settled down.  Giving yourself time before responding can make a difference. Pressing the pause button gives you a chance to rewind, reflect, prepare, and then press play when you are ready to discuss the situation with the employee.

  • The pause button will make the conversation more productive because it will allow time to fully consider what happened, why it happened, and what should change.
  • The pause button will slow down decisions. It might take a little more time to determine a plan of action, but it is a lot better than seeing the mistake repeated.
  • The pause button will help someone make the best decision. Assessing a situation takes time. Determining a course of action requires time to reflect.

Think about a recent conflict you had at work or at home. Did you press your pause button so that you could make sure you chose your words intentionally and thoughtfully? Or did you react without choosing your words carefully, saying things you later wished you could take back?

In the end, pushing the pause button can positively impact the outcome when everything goes wrong because you have a greater ability to right the wrong. While a successful property manager won’t gloss over failures or losses because there is a real cost associated with each mistake, they realize every mistake can be treated as a development opportunity. These are the things they consider while in “pause mode”.

No one ever said being a manager of people would be easy, and not everyone is cut out for the job. I recently read a great article in Management Psychology titled, “Leading in Tough Times: When You are Going through Hell…Keep on Going,” and I would encourage you to read it because it offers many golden nuggets. The author closes the post with this thought: “A final point, that may be the most central one to effective leadership, is the recognition that you are the role model. You set the tone. If you are positive, confident and optimistic, your people are likely to behave the same way. If you display focus and determination, they are likely to follow suit. Remember, just as panic and despair are infectious, so are energy and enthusiasm. As you look around your organization, remember the words of Gandhi: “be the change you want to see in the world.”

No decision should be made out of emotion, fatigue or anger. Never forget your goal, role, and that there is always a pause button available in every situation.

3. Discover the Invisible Side.

When everything goes wrong in the leasing office, there are always three sides: the property manager’s side, the leasing professional’s side, and the invisible side. In my experience, it is the invisible side that’s most difficult to determine because it cannot be seen. It is the side which requires the manager take a step back and look below the surface at how their action or inaction may have contributed to the employee’s failure. It requires a mirror in both directions. Great managers are caring and compassionate problem solvers, not just direction givers or finger pointers. They have a rough plan mapped out before they ever sit down with the employee. If they don’t have any good advice to share, then they really can’t help the employee do better next time. Managers have an answer for the right process or the right behavior to share with their employee before they start the conversation. These details and their plan of action are often discovered once they cross over to the invisible side.

There was clearly an invisible side in the “Chzburger and Utter Sale” incident. What caused the employee to choose such a creative spelling option for cheeseburger? Had he seen it before somewhere else? Did he think it was a good eye-catching marketing approach? Why did the “B” fall off of the “Utter?” Was there a lingering problem with the sign that no one had addressed? These are the details that matter when exploring the invisible side of a problem.

Certainly, employee mistakes are a challenge for any leader. It isn’t easy, but handling mistakes appropriately is critical to your success as a manager and ultimately the success of your team and organization. When handled well mistakes can result in learning and growing opportunities on both sides.

I wish I could have pulled the manager at my local store aside and shared some of these thoughts with her, but I am pretty sure she wouldn’t have been receptive. Who is watching the manager when things go wrong? Who are they accountable to when no one is watching other than their customers or their employees? Too often, the answer is no one, and the only result is poor performance by employees and customers who never return.

There are experiences taking place every minute in your leasing offices including the ones that take place when everything goes wrong. Paul Greenberg, author of the best-selling book CRM at the Speed of Light, sums it up in a very simple way, “If a customer likes you and continues to like you, they will do business with you. If they don’t, they won’t.” Your employees serve a variety of customers, and the internal customers they lead on a daily basis are most important to the success of your company.

When everything goes wrong, how will your property managers respond?

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

Edge2Learn is an eLearning company whose focus is the Property Management Industry and specializes in property management training and multifamily education. With over 30 years of experience and a commitment to increase industry excellence, we are passionate about engaging learners to maximize benefits for both companies and employees. Aligned with a well-respected industry leader, Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions, the Edge2Learn platform provides a turnkey solution for clearly identified needs and opportunities. We prepare learners to deliver a superior customer experience and also reduce corporate liability risks and overall employee turnover.