As Robert Kiyosaki says, “Don’t waste a good mistake. Learn from it.”
Mistakes happen to everyone. Whether a client left your firm in a fit of rage or you just noticed $50,000 missing from your account, it is easy to become frustrated when things don’t go the way we want. So, what next? Is there a way to turn legal lemons into lemonade? Here’s a recipe to try:
1. Identify a problem in your firm.
Be as specific as you can. Instead of thinking of the situation as a “people problem,” think of it as a “systems problem.” Go from “whom” to “what.” In other words, instead of saying, “Who made the client mad,” ask yourself, “What happened to make the client so angry?” In the case of our missing money, instead of saying, “Who stole $50,000 from the firm,” ask yourself, “What happened to result in a loss of $50,000?”
2. Identify the breakdown in the system.
Let’s assume, for instance, that you hired a secretary who appeared to be personable and friendly but who actually could use a lesson or two in conversing with clients. During the interview, you had no way of knowing this would happen once she was hired, but the secretary eventually made an inappropriate assumption to the client’s face based on the color of their skin.
In our other scenario, you hired a secretary who stole the money and messed up your books. Rather than blame the secretary, blame your system. Sounds harsh, right? Yes, the secretary insulted a client or stole, but you also had a failed system that allowed you to hire a bad secretary in the first place.
3. Fix the system.
Figure out what went wrong, and fix it. Determine a better way to hire next time. Do you need a more in-depth screening process? Personality tests? Role-playing conversations with pretend clients? Background checks? More recommendations? Do you actually need to follow up with references instead of simply saying you will?
Brainstorm new ways to improve the system so that this mistake doesn’t happen again. Make sure, however, that the new system is measurable, testable and can be handed off.
4. Implement the new system.
Go through with your plan for the secretary’s replacement. Conduct background checks, and call every reference to determine the candidate’s character. Try to understand his or her personality as best you can prior to hiring. Analyze the data, figure out what’s working and what isn’t, rinse and repeat.
By looking at our mistakes as lessons rather than the end of the world, we can only grow as a firm. Systems can help us determine what went wrong, where exactly the process broke down and how we can alter the system so that the mistake doesn’t happen again.