Now is not always the best time to investigate a failure

201601-pexels-photo-1445364502257-00c4ddb9b18d-foodI was at a fast food restaurant late Saturday night. It was one of those restaurants where you place your order in one line, and then pay for it another line.

I ordered a meal. I expected a drink to come with it. But no one gave me a drink.

When I asked what was up, the guy told me that no one told him I had ordered a meal. He gave me a cup anyway and told me not to worry about it.

Two lessons:

  1. If you pay people little enough money, it’s almost impossible for them to give a bleep about what they’re doing. It’s not shocking that this stuff happens at fast food restaurants. Frankly, it’s part of the price of walking into one of those restaurants. I know this.
  2. Your customer doesn’t care¬†where a miscommunication originated. All the customer cares about is a quick, fair resolution. Your boss, though, certainly cares about where that miscommunication originated.

What does this have to do with your career? The takeaway is that there’s always a time to investigate a failure. And that time isn’t always right now, in front of your customer, or in front of your boss.

Say one of your stakeholders complains to you that she didn’t receive a report. You know you’re not the one that delivers that report. You have two options:

  1. Immediately broadcast that you’re not at fault, explaining you’re not the one who delivers this report.
  2. Preemptively apologize for the hassle, promising to investigate and resolve the issue.

Which do you think will win you more fans?

You don’t work in a fast food restaurant, where your customer stands in front of you, waiting for a resolution. You can take the time you need to investigate.

Maybe that investigation happens right now. Maybe it doesn’t. But it’s not a good look to immediately pipe up and deny any wrong-doing. Whoever has been wronged doesn’t particularly care whether you were personally responsible or not.

There’s a time and a place to get the bottom of a failure, to identify the root cause, to devise an appropriate solution.¬†With the root cause in hand, you won’t have to execute the conspicuous, self-serving, on-the-spot denial. Timing is everything.

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