Perfection is like Yeti--we keep imagining it exists and work endlessly to find it, but the proof picture is usually pretty dang fuzzy. So, spoiler alert, you're going to mess up, and when you do, you have to get back on track fast to avoid serious ramifications to your job and career. Here's the essential fix-it playbook.
Yes, it's tempting to jump right in and start making corrections, especially when you're embarrassed and deadlines are getting closer. But emotions can be incredibly high after something goes wrong. That can stop you from objectively looking at what happened, entertaining suggestions or requests, and finding a solution that's truly the best choice. Cool off and don't try to work things out until you (and everyone else) can discuss your mistake without getting worked up.
Once you've got control over your feelings, go back and evaluate everything that led up to your mistake. Ask yourself if there's a bigger pattern involved, and identify the specific cliff point where you jumped the wrong way. Get feedback if you can. But then dig deeper and clarify for yourself what your motivations were. Were you scared? Greedy? Ill-informed? Too competitive? Burned out and looking to cut corners? Why? Getting answers here might mean going way back in your life in painful ways, and that's OK.
The key here is to avoid saying "I'm sorry" just because people expect to hear it. You have to demonstrate in the apology that you're sincere.
You do this first by genuinely acknowledging that you are fully responsible for what happened. Get vulnerable and admit the motivations you identified for yourself.
Then acknowledge how your behavior or decision influenced others and the business--that is, be clear that you see why the mistake was damaging or hurtful.
If people can see that you're holding yourself accountable and that you grasp that they have a legitimate reason to be upset, they'll be more willing to forgive you.
Ask for advice and requirements.
Policies might dictate ramifications after a mistake in the office. But it isn't always clear what it will take to satisfy the people you offended and earn back their trust on a more personal level.
Have an honest discussion about what you think might help, but then admit you need guidance and ask them what next steps they want you to take. If you've been clear about your motivations and everyone is open about what's available or expected, then you should be able form an action plan together that is fair. But don't push back unreasonably if you don't happen to like or agree with their needs or protocols--the offender doesn't get to be judge, too.
Carry out your plan.
By far the biggest reason people don't truly accept apologies after someone has made a blunder is that the offender doesn't change the behavior. It is the long-lasting change in what you do that demonstrates sincerity and true contrition. So whether you pledge to come in early to fix paperwork, go talk to customers personally, or rework how you're organized, do what you promised. Provide consistent updates about your progress so there's no question that you're still serious about making amends, and so others can more easily know what steps your corrections put them in a position to take.
Put protections in place.
Once you've righted your wrong as best as you can, make sure there are some protections to prevent you from making the same mistake again. This might mean adding a password, tweaking a policy, teaming up with someone for a specific task, or even switching shifts. Over time, those protections will help you build the new habits so your error-free counter can keep right on rolling.