How We Handle Mistakes

January 2019 at 3:30pm, I made one of the biggest mistakes an HR person can make.

I was in the process of moving and I had just started a new relationship and was meeting my new beau for the first time since we decided to become an item (we were long distance) in Mexico for a 2 week vacation. My flight left at 7:44pm, I was excited, stressed, overwhelmed, and trying to think of everything I needed to do before I left.

We were also in the last days of our annual compensation cycle - I would imagine any HR person can now immediately empathize and relate with how absurd it was to be scheduling an apartment move, a new relationship, a 2 week vacation and the annual appraisal cycle all at once.

Working on the floor with a packed box as my desk, I set my final out-of-office notes on my laptop, texted the movers with the new address, moved some money from savings into checking, downloaded my boarding pass and ordered an Uber for JFK. One of my VPs called me to review his final submission.

We were essentially all complete with the merit budgets, market adjustments and promotions and I saw we had received most of the equity recommendations, but I noticed that I hadn't confirmed for one group.

I set myself a reminder to reach out to the Director, when all of a sudden that director sent an email.

She is one of the most well-organized and proactive leaders I've ever worked with and her email was a brief schedule on where she was going to be for the next few months.


I asked the VP to hold on a second and quickly wrote to her basically listing the people I knew she would likely advocate for an equity grant. Essentially: "I know it will be x and y - that's everyone, right?"

Thinking I could check off the last thing on my list and go on vacation stress free - I felt a pit in my stomach as I immediately saw 5 or 6 "out of office" replies bounce to my inbox. I hung up with the VP and realized that the Director hadn't sent the email to just me, it was to several email boxes, and in my distraction - I hit "reply all". I had just told her entire team, their adjacent teams, and several larger teams who was going to be given an equity grant...and more importantly, heavily implying who wasn't.

She slacked me immediately and we hopped on a call.

This was bad, and I awaited the deserved "how could you possibly have done this?" and "how are we ever going to fix it?". I even took a quick look at flights leaving the next day in case I needed to stay later to fix it.

Instead - she told me to breathe, and when she heard me breath, she laughed.

After 30 seconds straight of me speaking non-stop about how dumb of a mistake it was, suggesting a few solutions, wondering if we could unsend the messages, she just told me to breathe.

She knew this was a mistake and knew that either of us panicking about it wasn't going to fix it. We went through the email together - essentially no private information was revealed, just my guess for her intent. It was a simple mistake. At no point was there ever judgement, critique or exasperation, in her busy day I had just given her this new obstacle to deal with, but she never made me feel guilty or bad about it - just a partnership on how to address it together.

We talked through a few options and within minutes everything just felt normal. Talking through the different choices gave us perspective in terms that we could be the ones to blow this out of proportion vs just acknowledging it was a mistake.

We decided that I would try to recall the message from anyone that hadn't opened it yet to minimize risk. At the same time I sent out another message basically indicating that the email was sent for one person only and that I had made a mistake.

She responded to that email string with a light-hearted joke and within 20 minutes there were several people sending memes and gifs all teasing and sharing stories of some of their biggest mistakes while a few people said they were really happy to see HR could also make mistakes as well.

There was very little fall-out, if I remember correctly one employee reached out to to ask a few clarifying questions and we handled it together.

I was able to land in Mexico stress-free and able to enjoy my vacation without stressing or kicking myself for the mistake.

This became my mantra going forward - anytime someone comes to me with a big mistake they made, or an error of judgment, I intentionally create the same safe space she made for me. We are human, we are going to make mistakes, what matters is how we fix it together, not how bad we make the other person feel.

I also invested in turning on all "delay sending" tools ...just in case!



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