IT Employee Motivation: Fixes Are More Important Than Problems

by drjim on July 11, 2008

How You Handle A Mistake Is More Important Then The Mistake Itself

How You Handle A Mistake Is More Important Then The Mistake Itself

The engineer in all of us can rise up and take over whenever a problem shows up. In the world of information technology, when either ourselves or one of our staff screw up, personnel issues can get shoved aside as we focus on finding a solution to the problem at hand. However, if you can take a step back for just a moment, you’ll find that this is a rare opportunity to define your career. In this day and age in which IT employee retention is so important, the ability to pause can be critical.

We all make mistakes and the same goes for those who either work for us or work on our team. When somebody really makes a mistake, the whole world seems to come to a screeching halt when both the problem and the person who caused it are finally identified. What you do next will define how everything turns out. You’ve got a bunch of options:

  • Don’t Go Bi-Polar: All of us tend to favor an extream reaction when we realize that a mistake has happened. Either we blow our top and insist that someone else is responsible or we get very embarassed and think “Oh no, I really screwed up this time.” Both reactions are the wrong response — instead, take a step back to evaluate the situation and keep calm even if that is the hardest thing in the world to do.
  • Plan, Plan, Plan: don’t ignore the problem. And yes, you should probably tell your boss about it so that he hears it from you and not someone else. Be sure that you accept responsibility (I mean, what else can you do?) and make sure that you have a plan for what to do next BEFORE you tell him.
  • Don’t Point Fingers of Blame: Focus on finding a solution to the problem instead of focusing on the source of the problem. One key aspect of IT jobs is that we seem remember and reward the heroes who fix problems and we rarely seem to remember how the problems happened in the first place. This is your time to shine!
  • Find A Problem Mentor: If ever there was a time in your career to find someone to talk to about your situation this is it. Keep in mind that they may not be in your office and may not even work for your company. Find them, explain the situation, and seek their guidance as to what you should be doing next.
  • Say That You Are Sorry: Amazingly enough, this may be the perfect time for you to simply say “I’m sorry”. A sincere apology may be the hardest thing in the world for you to do; however, it may act like a sudden rain storm over a forest fire. If an apology is not appropriate or needed, then at least state how you feel “This is a bad situation and I’d like to help correct it” and then move on.

We have all made mistakes in our career and we will probably make even bigger ones as we move forward. However, it’s how we react to these mistakes that really defines who we are.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Oleg Dulin April 15, 2009 at 9:14 am

Here is a question for you.

Is it possible to continue a career at the same company after mistakes were made and fixes introduced ? Wouldn’t the engineer be permanently pigeonholed into a spot he can’t get out of ?

Fixes vs mistakes issue is not as simple as you describe.

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Dr. Jim Anderson April 15, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Oleg: Once again, there’s more details that would be needed to answer this question. However, you bring up a really good point. If you do a really good job of fixing things, there is a very real possibility that you will start to be viewed as being too valuable to move on – you are the “fixer”. A couple of ways to handle this one: ask for more money – if they really think that you are that valuable, perhaps they will pay. Alternatively, look for another job. Make sure that you find one that you want, then see if your current employer will pay (a lot) to have you stay. Hopefully, you’ll win either way…!

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