3 Steps to Make Things Right After You’ve Made a Bad Decision

Hi, I’m Henry and I make bad decisions sometimes. I’m guessing you do too.

Have you ever noticed that when you are collecting opinions before you make a decision, some people are giving you their opinions with disclaimers? They say things like, “I may be wrong and consider this…” or “I’m glad I’m not making this decision and if I was, I would….”. These people may seem afraid to make a decision and they may also be wise. The fact is that until you experience the outcome of your decision, you don’t know if it is right or not. As they say, time will tell.

Other times, people have strong opinions and say things like, “you should do…” or “the only choice is to…”. These people may sound more confident and, at the time the decision is being made, they don’t know any more than the first group. They might be right and again, time will tell.

Once some time passes and resources are spent, you find out if you were right or not. When you were, you feel like a hero and when you weren’t, you feel like a zero.

You can leverage the situation for improved performance in the future. To do so, try these steps:

  • Be vulnerable and admit your mistake. You were wrong, trying to cover it up with excuses will lose you additional credibility. Instead, try saying something like, “I thought this was the right decision at the time and clearly, I was wrong.” Or “At the time I made this decision, I was sure it was the right thing to do and well, clearly it wasn’t”.
  • Don’t make it a bigger deal than it has to be, and move on. Put another way, sometimes, things are as big of a deal as you make of them. Try saying something like, “now that we’ve clearly established that this was the wrong decision, who will join me to help identify what we’ve learned and as a result, will do differently next time?”. It is a powerful leadership move to reverse the momentum of the discussion when everyone is focused on a problem.
  • Share the learning; You have taken the first two steps in admitting you made the mistake, the final is take a lesson from it. Identify the stakeholders who may have been affected and communicate your learning and/or new plan of action to them. Make a list of who needs to know about it and use the following framework for communication.
  • It might sound something like this:

  • Be vulnerable, admit your mistake: “Hi, you probably heard by now that I made the wrong call on how to lower our inventory levels”.
  • Don’t make it a bigger deal than it has to be, and move on: “I spoke with some advisors and we learned that the software platform we used does not do a good job of tracking inventory levels while you are operating the facility you are counting in”.
  • Share the learning: “As a result of our learning, we are instituting ½ day shutdowns of any facility we are counting inventory in, and only during the time we are counting. I thought you would want to know. Is there anyone else we should let know”?
  • Everyone makes mistakes, not everyone learns from them. As one of my martial arts coaches used to say “a loss is not a failure if you learn from it”. When you make a mistake, you have a chance to turn your loss into a lesson.

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