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Forget Apologies. 3 Steps to Recover When Things Go Wrong

You will make hiring mistakes, and you will have problems with customers. What's important is the recovery.
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I stopped on my way home from work the other night to grab a quick takeout dinner at a small restaurant I’ve been to several times. The place was busy as usual, with the controlled chaos that’s typical during the dinner rush. 

The cashier taking orders was having a tough time managing what appeared to be basic requests. After about five minutes it was my turn, and as I stood there waiting to get acknowledged--and stood there, and stood there--I looked over and realized the register guy actually had his head leaning against the wall. His eyes were closed. He barely opened them as he attempted to operate the cash register. After several painful minutes, he finished with my order--and promptly laid his head against the wall again until the next customer apologized for interrupting his nap.

The guy was clearly high.

What really troubled me was not the experience with the cashier--any business owner can relate to hiring an employee who is just doesn’t work out. The really disturbing element of this story is that in the 15 minutes I was there the manager never addressed the issue, despite witnessing the entire performance. No apology to customers. No coaching or reprimand to the employee. Nothing at all to improve the situation.

I won’t be returning to this restaurant. But what will keep me from coming back isn’t this single bad experience, but rather the clear sense that management doesn’t much care.

One of the hardest parts of running a business is ensuring that the people who are the face of your business are representing you well. That means when something goes wrong--and it will--you need to move fast to make things right. Here are the steps to take:

Course Correct - No matter how busy you are or how uncomfortable the discussion, if you don’t quickly catch bad behavior and clearly correct it things will only get worse. We all want to be liked, but running a business has to start with respect and even with your employees that needs to be earned. Fair, firm and direct feedback is key to correcting things that are not working.

Move quickly - Nobody likes to fire people. It sucks and it’s hard. But nobody said running a business was going to be easy. Often when someone is a bad fit, you realize it almost immediately. Work with them closely to try and make it work, but if you realize it just won’t, act quickly to move them out. 

Demonstrate commitment - In the instance above I wasn’t looking for an apology. Really. What I really wanted was some sign that management felt that what I was experiencing was not acceptable. How you recover from mistakes is often more important than the mistake itself. Any attempt to remedy the cashier’s behavior would have been far more impactful than an apology. The lack of action is the real reason I won’t come back.

Over the years I have been thanked by clients for not letting personnel issues fester, and more surprisingly have received the same feedback from people within my company who all could see the problems even more clearly that I could. Many times people have made an amazing turnaround in performance because they simply needed some direction to succeed. Other times we’ve moved quickly and respectfully to part with those who couldn’t or wouldn’t change.

Regardless of the outcome, both our clients and our employees know that we are willing to do what it takes to create an environment that's positioned for success.

Last updated: May 29, 2013

SCOTT ELSER | Columnist

Scott is the co-founder and president of Launchpad Advertising, one of the fastest growing advertising agencies in the U.S. and 3-time member of the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest growing companies. Scott is a marketing consultant, entrepreneur, business coach, speaker, and contributing writer for Inc. magazine. Connect with him on Twitter @scottlpa

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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