Mistakes are a fact of life. No matter how much you try, you can’t completely avoid making them. And according to Michael Houlihan, they can actually help to improve your company’s effectiveness and reputation if you handle them well.
|It seems our society has turned dodging responsibility into an art form. From celebrities who insist that a brush with the law was all a big misunderstanding to political figures who use spin and double-speak to blame everything on the other side, no one wants to admit it when they mess up. If you’re a business leader, the temptation to use this strategy is huge. After all, your customers are paying you to get it right, so the last thing you want is for them to know that you’ve made a mistake, right?
Maybe not. According to Michael Houlihan, when your company admits to mistakes in a constructive way, you won’t damage your brand in the way you feared. In fact, you have a valuable opportunity to gain respect and loyalty.
“You and your company are not judged by how well you do when you’re good, but by how well you do when you’re bad,” shares Houlihan, coauthor along with Bonnie Harvey of The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine (coming in February 2013 from Evolve Publishing, www.thebarefootspirit.com).
“The fact is, everyone—and every company—makes mistakes. Denying that they have happened usually exacerbates and magnifies an already awkward situation, because chances are, you aren’t fooling anyone and you appear insincere.
“In fact, in a very real way, trying to dodge responsibility can hurt your reputation more than simply owning up to the mistake in the first place,” he adds.
Houlihan speaks from experience. He and Harvey are the founders of Barefoot Cellars, the company that transformed the image of American wine from staid and unimaginative to fun, lighthearted, and hip. And when they started the company in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse, they knew almost nothing about winemaking or the wine business.
“As you might imagine, we made many mistakes over the years as the business grew,” admits Houlihan. “Some of them even caused us to worry that Barefoot might not survive. So early on, Bonnie and I made a conscious decision to confront our mistakes, and to view them as opportunities to learn and grow. I believe that attitude is part of what ultimately made Barefoot Cellars successful.”
Honestly and humbly admitting to missteps, Houlihan and Harvey found, often diffuses a tense situation instead of exacerbating it. And as time passes, they say, people tend to remember more clearly how you handled the mistake as opposed to what it was.
If you’re ready to face up to your company’s mistakes and turn them into building blocks, read on for five of Houlihan’s suggestions on handling your next business “my bad”:
Cop to it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to admit that your company did something wrong. Uttering that mea culpa involves swallowing your pride and acknowledging that you are not, in fact, perfect (which is an illusion that our culture encourages us to zealously cultivate). But the sooner you admit to the error, the more you reduce the drama…and the faster you can move on to the next, more important stage: what you are going to do about the situation.
“People actually like a little imperfection now and then,” points out Houlihan. “It demonstrates a level of authenticity, vulnerability, and humanity with which we all can identify. Plus, it’s harder to be angry with someone who says, ‘You’re right—I messed up,’ than with someone who insists the fault doesn’t lie with him…even though you know it does. And it’s difficult—if not downright impossible—to make any constructive progress if the responsible party refuses to admit there’s a problem.”
“Once again, mistakes are bound to happen—even if you’re an established company, and especially if you’re a newer one,” reiterates Houlihan. “So don’t waste time and energy beating yourself up, and especially don’t try to create the illusion that you’re perfect.
“Remember, what people recall most of all is how you handle missteps and errors, not what they were,” he concludes. “So don’t miss out on these golden opportunities to show your integrity, reduce the drama, and improve the way your business operates. That is how you make mistakes right.”
About the Authors: Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, authors of The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine, started the Barefoot Wine brand in their laundry room in 1986, made it a nationwide bestseller, and successfully sold the brand to E&J Gallo in 2005. Starting with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles and create new markets.
They were pioneers in what they termed “worthy cause marketing” and performance-based compensation. They held a comprehensive view of customer service, resulting in the National Hot Brand Award for outstanding sales growth in 2003 and 2004.
They now share their experience and innovative approach to business as consultants, authors, speakers, mentors, and workshop leaders. Their book, The Barefoot Spirit, chronicles the history and lessons learned building the popular Barefoot Wine brand.
To learn more, visit www.thebarefootspirit.com.