The Power of Owning your Mistakes

It’s something that we teach our children from a young age, “If you make a mistake it is OK, just tell someone about it and we will fix it.” So how come adults often forget that message, and push the blame onto someone else or try to ignore it all together?

In an earlier article, One Mistake too Many, we highlighted a situation where a string of mistakes made by an FBO’s management snowballed out of control to a point where there was a negative, multi-day, impact on a client that significantly impacted their business trip. These types of experiences leave a bad taste in the mouths of those in the private aviation sector regardless of if they travel for work or play.

Let’s face it, mistakes do happen and are at times unavoidable. More often than not it seems that people have a tendency to shirk responsibility or point fingers at another party; but what if the script was flipped and people found power in owning their mistakes instead? The answer is rather simple. Employees who are empowered to own up to their mistakes when they do happen will perform to a higher degree than those who don’t, meaning less mistakes will happen to begin with.

An employee who tells a client, “I am sorry, I had misunderstood your request and fix the issue,” will create a better experience for a client than one who responds with, “I’m not sure what your issue is, no one told me, and I wasn’t even here.”

So how do we do this?

Well, this boils down to a couple things. For one, your FBO can build a culture where ownership of each person’s actions is encouraged so that even if the root cause was a negative, the end result can be a positive. This approach largely relies on the social relations and trust between each employee, management, and ultimately the clients.

Another method is to manage your employee’s responsibilities through task management, be it through an program, platform, or even a regular old dry erase board in the office. While this can be perceived as a minor form of policing employees, it is a method to clearly lay out everyone’s tasks for the day, while maintaining a true record of their actions. This creates a greater sense of accountability and a higher level of accuracy in completing work orders.

An employee who feels empowered by their work, as if their actions directly affect the business, is more inclined to take charge when something goes wrong. This may be easier in smaller organizations where the mistake of one employee can be more easily tracked, but for large enterprises that can be difficult.

Not only only FBO’s, but any company, needs to ensure that all employees have clear, measurable, and obtainable metrics. It is important that employees understand that they have both personal, and organizational responsibilities and that they are accountable for the success of each.

Many FBO’s employ line crew personnel that are only looking for temporary jobs; whether that employee is a high school student on summer break or someone trying to get by for a couple months, their short term actions affect the long term reputation of the FBO.

When it comes to an angry client, there is little room for error. A simple mistake can escalate into a negative experience within minutes, resulting in loss of business, and untold damage in the story they will tell to potential clients about how your operation handled the issue.

People respect honesty, even if being honest is sharing bad news. If someone on the line crew makes a mistake, ensure that the culture of your FBO encourages them to admit and remedy the situation as soon as possible.

Likewise, it is important to keep record of who is doing what and when. There is nothing an client will dislike more than a member of your line crew pointing fingers at another person, or telling them, “I don’t know and can’t help you,” simply because they may not have been there.

Equip your team with the tools necessary to own up to the mistakes of themselves, and the organization as a whole. Your clients will respect that level of social responsibility and a negative situation may well turn into one where the client leaves saying, “You know what? John may have just got in, but he really took over and solved the issue caused by that other guy. I’m glad someone here could take care of me!”


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