Work Fails: What to do When You Make Mistakes at Work
On today’s episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast, we are going to be continuing our “Work Fails” series. We are interviewing Emily Hastings, who is the Executive Assistant to Crestcom’s CEO. She has a background in the hospitality industry, specifically both restaurants and hotels and also a background within nonprofits. Emily is going to be sharing her work fails to help you overcome your own mistakes at work and find the learnings and wisdom that come with it.
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall and today I’m talking to Emily Hastings who is the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Crestcom, and she is here willingly sharing her fails because we are continuing our “Work Fails” minisode. Emily’s background is within the hospitality industry, specifically restaurants and hotels, but she also has deep expertise with nonprofits and she’ll be leaning into those experiences to share her feelings with you and hopes that you can learn from her. Understand what you can do if you ever find yourself in those same situations or feel confident that you are not alone when those work mistakes happen, it’s not whether they’ll happen, it’s about how you handle them. Emily, thank you so much for joining us on the show today. I really appreciate it.
Emily Hastings: I’m so excited, Jenn!
Jenn DeWall: Good. So I know we were talking a little bit earlier offline about a few of the different work fails, but let’s, let’s start it off. What is one of your top work fails that you think of, and maybe you cringe when you go back and look at it or think about it?
Emily Hastings: Well, you know, I was thinking about this when you brought it up, and kind of categorized a few fails because everybody has them. And I’ve had many different jobs in my background and I’m so I had a lot to choose from.
Jenn DeWall: Good!
Emily Hastings: Cause I like to say everybody fails sometimes, right?
Jenn DeWall: No, everyone does fail. There’s just that weird stigma where we’re not supposed to admit it, but that’s the whole point of our mini-series of mini-episodes is to show people failures and mistakes happen. Totally normal.
Everyday Mistakes at Work
Emily Hastings: Absolutely. So the first thing that came to mind was when I was working in a restaurant early in my career like as I was going to school, I worked in restaurants; I worked in room service at the hotel where I worked for years. And that’s such an easy place to think of mistakes. There are little fails for any restaurant worker every day, every shift. And it’s about how you recover from them. And I learned some very basic recovery tools and how to jump back up and get back into the game after you really mess something up. And I think that’s been valuable throughout my whole career. I’m learning how to not let it phase you. So just little things like getting an order wrong, bringing the food to the wrong table. I don’t eat meat, so sometimes I would forget to ask questions like, how do you want that cooked? And didn’t understand why it was important either. So sometimes there were mix-ups like that and or dropping someone’s food, all their food right before you get to the table, dropping food on the person. As you can tell, I was a really good waitress.
Jenn DeWall: How do you recover from that, though?
Emily Hastings: So you first you have to learn, you know, apologize, apologize, apologize and don’t let it, you know, some people have a really hard time saying, Oh, I’m so sorry I messed up, or I did wrong. Some people, their ego doesn’t let them do that very easily. You must get over that and you know in restaurant and hospitality, you have to just let that roll right off your back and keep moving. And you learned in the restaurant, you know, everything’s fixable because you can comp something, you can have it remade, you can give them a free meal next time you can buy them a bottle of wine, you can buy them a bottle of champagne depending on how egregious your error was. And when I was working in the restaurant at a hotel, you could do other things like give them breakfast coupons or you know, offer them free room service later, that sort of thing. Or even if you know, you spilled something on them; you could offer laundry service since we were in a hotel. So things like that were nice that you couldn’t necessarily do in a freestanding restaurant. But there were other options for smoothing it over.
Take Ownership of Your Mistakes
Jenn DeWall: I like that the first thing you said was ownership. When we make our fails or our mistakes, the first thing we need to do is own it and look for what we did and what we could’ve done differently and communicate, apologize, own your mistakes. Don’t pretend they didn’t happen, but own them. Take responsibility.
Emily Hastings: Absolutely. And you know, in the hospitality industry, when I would train people underneath me, I would always say, if someone comes up to you and complains, you people did this, or you guys did this, and a lot of people’s first reaction is to be, that wasn’t me. I wasn’t working that shift. No, you mean Sarah. Sarah is the one that messes everything up. You know, it’s that ego that gets in there. And I always told them, you are everyone at the hotel when you’re standing up here. And so just take it, apologize and figure out a solution because it doesn’t matter if it was Sarah or Bob or Henry or you and we’re all going to take responsibility even if it wasn’t necessarily you that lost that key or canceled the reservation or you know, any number of errors that can be made.
Jenn DeWall: That’s really important because I think that happens, whether you’re inside or outside of hospitality where it becomes easy to say, well, I’m not the one that did that. And whether you’re working with an external customer, they’re not going to want to hear that. Or, whether you’re training a new employee, that’s not going to be something that’s helpful for them either. So recognizing that it’s just important to take responsibility and just suspend ego and not make it about you, but look at it about how you can create the solution to solve the challenge.
Emily Hastings: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s definitely big challenges I faced working in the hotel. I remember I was a reservations manager. So I managed all the reservations that came in and out, made sure people got in the rooms they requested and like near their Aunt Sue or things like that that have to be done. And it was a big downtown hotel in Austin, Texas. And once a year, there’s a big event that some of your listeners might be familiar with called South by Southwest. And it grew from a little week-long music festival into this giant conference and expo that sells out the whole city and outside the city and goes for about a month. And so it starts out with a tech conference and an education conference, and then it goes into a film festival and then a music festival now. Yeah. So it is huge.
Emily Hastings: And a downtown hotel that I worked at was a great location to be. You’re walking distance to the convention center where the middle, you know, the registration happened and a lot of the events and then all the venues downtown, are venues for the conference during that time. So it’s a perfect place to be. People wanted to be at that hotel. They booked years in advance and they spend thousands of dollars on their passes to the conference, thousands of dollars on airfare and thousands of dollars on their room. And so you can imagine it’s not a good time to mess anything up.
Jenn DeWall: Right. That’s a lot of money on the line.
Emily Hastings: It’s a lot. And so the conference itself books a block of rooms and takes most of the hotel. But then we have this very few rooms that we sell at exorbitant prices for people that didn’t get into the root block. And so those were mine to manage and play with. And if you’re not familiar with the hotel industry, it is common to overbook your property because there will be people that don’t show up.
Jenn DeWall: Like the airlines.
Making Big Mistakes at Work
Emily Hastings: Yes. So you, if you want your perfect sell, fill every room for a night, that’s a perfect sell. And we would get bonuses and things based on that. So we’re motivated to do that. Then you had to fill every single room that night. That means no no-shows. No, somebody just moved their arrival to the next day, that kind of thing. And we wanted to maximize profit through the whole event. So I, at the last minute, one night, got talked into selling a room. We were technically sold out. The person hadn’t shown up yet and it was around 9:00 PM which isn’t that late for, you know, all the travel that’s coming and going but is after check-in time. And someone was willing to pay a really crazy amount of money for the room, but they wanted it for three nights. And so I knew that it was a little risk-taking, but I just said, you know what, I’m going to give it a shot.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah, it was nine o’clock. You probably thought like the chance of a no show. It was probably high.
Emily Hastings: Yeah. So I sold the room and about an hour later, Oh gosh. And comes to the person who it was reserved for, and literally everyone else checked in. Every room is full. There’s nowhere to go. So, you know, we had to find a room for this person, for this person who spent all this money to come to this conference. It’s been traveling all day and that I, if I remember correctly from overseas, Oh my gosh. So very tired, very cranky. I go, I have them sit in the lobby and have a drink brought to them while I call frantically every hotel in the area for a room for one night at least. And nobody has anything. It’s too late. Everybody’s filled their rooms and don’t have anything to spare. Can’t clear anything out for me. And I’m calling and calling and calling and I finally find a hotel in Round Rock, Texas, which is a good 45 minutes on a good day from downtown. That’s not their ideal location. Yeah. And so not only do I have to pay for that hotel room, I have to pay for car service to be available to take them to that hotel and to bring them back downtown in the morning and hope that we could find a hotel room downtown for them by the next day, which we didn’t. There was nothing we could do. So then we had to pay again for car service to get them around and to the other hotel in Round Rock. And they ended up having to do that for about three days of their stay.
Emily Hastings: And then they landed back at our hotel where then I had to comp their room for the rest of the time because they were so furious and had missed so many things because they weren’t nearby. And I gave them free meals, free everything, points. Because it was completely my fault. I took a chance, it backfired and ended up costing us quite a bit of money. And you know, many, the conference itself was angry at the hotel because they were a registered attendee, so we’re supposed to protect their rooms. And so I had to face up to the, to the army of South by Southwest and tell them what I did and make amends to them. And you know, they’re a big powerhouse in Austin and they kind of run the show for a month and bring in just billions of dollars. So it’s like being in trouble with the mayor or something.
Jenn DeWall: They know they depend on that tourism revenue.
Taking Risks Means Taking Responsiblity
Emily Hastings: Yeah. And it was definitely you know, very intimidating time, but I just had to take my licks and be like, I did that. I tried to do the right thing and get us our perfect sell, and I made a bad decision and that’s all there is to be done. You know, we found them a place to stay and it wasn’t great. And just one of those where there was no really great way to make it right. And I just had to take the, take the licks and, and hang my head.
Jenn DeWall: What advice would you give to someone that maybe has or is about to make a decision where you don’t know? There’s a lot of ambiguity. You’re taking a gamble,
Emily Hastings: Man. I mean, you have to take all the facts and use as much experiences you have. And I think maybe that night I could have asked for input from other people and that doesn’t guarantee we would not have made the same choice because in the end of the day we’re trying to maximize our profit. And that gets to be hairy business when you’re getting your crystal ball out and see like who missed their plane tonight and isn’t going to get here. So,
Jenn DeWall: But it’s looking at it, it sounds like there’s the lens of, you had all of the facts that you could, and it wasn’t uncommon for people to not show up or to come in late for traveling. And so you made your best guess based on your past experience, which sometimes that’s all we can do. And that’s what people need to remember when we’re making mistakes. That, did you do your best? Did you think through everything that you could, you don’t have a crystal ball, so you’re just making the best guess that you can. And sometimes it’s gonna work out great and sometimes it may not work out this great and that’s okay too.
Forgive Yourself and Move Forward
Emily Hastings: And I think what else is really important, you know, it feels like the world is ending that day. You know, you just feel horrible, you messed up, things will never be right again. Everyone’s going to be mad at you forever, and you hadn’t shame and you just, you know, you have that pit in your stomach. And I think one thing that I really learned from situations like that is, you know, own it and apologize, but don’t let it keep eating you up. You have to also forgive yourself and decide what you’ll do better next time and then, you know, just dust it off and keep going because tomorrow’s another day and there’s a whole new mistake to make.
Jenn DeWall: Give yourself permission to move forward. I love that.
Emily Hastings: You can’t just sit in that forever because there was nothing to be done once it was done. And, you know, I could’ve just been like, Oh gosh, I have to quit my job or I should, you know, do something drastic or, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t the first person that oversold the hotel, and I won’t be the last. And you know, you just got to keep moving forward and doing better each time.
Jenn DeWall: It’s all about the perspective and the new learn perspective. Sure. You had another work failed, and we are going to talk about which this one probably sounds. I mean for me it sounds extremely mortifying.
Mortifying Mistakes at Work
Emily Hastings: Oh my Gosh. So I’ll give you a little bit of background. I worked for a while at a nonprofit. It was called The Center for Out of Court Divorce, and it was a startup. And what we did there was help families that were going through divorce, figure out how do it amicably. I figured out how best to take care of the children and it was a neat center. We did counseling for the family, counseling for the kids support groups and then also actually help them mediate their agreement and do their actual court hearing at our center instead of like a cold, stiff courtroom, they got to do it at this center where they were comfortable and where their staff and counselors were there. And it kind of made it a more holistic approach to family separation and it’s really neat idea. It’s not open any longer. We ran out of funding, but I hope it comes back cause it was really cool. So picture this, a family has gone through the process. They’ve made their whole agreement. They figured out who gets what. They figured out their custody agreements with the kids and everything. They’re ready for their big day. They’re going to get divorced. And it sounds weird to say it like that, but actually the way we did it was kind of a happy day, usually like to have it wrapped up and finally be able to move forward.
Emily Hastings: And so we usually do three or four families a day. We had a judge come in, and I was at kind of a legal assistant. I ran the court recording equipment. I did the paperwork; I notarized things. You know, I filed their original petitions with the court, that sort of thing. And in Colorado, you can’t get divorced unless you filed your petition at least 90 days before the court hearing. So on day 91, you can get divorced but not a minute before. And so while doing all the paperwork for the three families that came in and they were like, “Oh, we’d like to get divorced on this date that you have coming up for the judge is coming in. And I was like, yep, they’re good. They’re good. I have a little spreadsheet and the calculations that I put in there, everyone looked fine. And we got in there and this one family sits down, goes through their whole proceeding. You know, it’s kind of like the opposite of a wedding. It’s like, do you? Yes. Do you, yes, you get this, you really want to be divorced? Yes, we do. And the vet and the judge is going through the last bit where he has to read everything- I showed that you filed for divorce on. And then he looks up and he says, well, we might have a problem. And they were at 89 days from filing their petition because my spreadsheet calculated just month and year. And not the days. And so I messed up. They were only at 89 days and so he could not divorce them that day. And I was horrified. I had never been in a job like this before. You know, I’d been there for a few months and everything was new, but I just felt so much responsibility on my shoulders where you know the legal aspects of this and like what happens if they didn’t really get divorced? And I was just beside myself. And so they took a little recess and the judge thought about it for a minute and he came up with a plan, thank goodness because I had no idea what to do, not knowing.
Finding a Solution
Emily Hastings: And so he said, what we’ll do is we’ll finish the proceeding and then what happens is on day 91 we have to meet again, and you’ll sign the papers in front of me and then you’ll actually be divorced. But we don’t have to go through the whole hearing all over again. And he was very generous with his time and he made that happen and came in and they came in and we just finished up the paperwork part and I witnessed everything. And so they got their divorce. But it was just like such an easy little slip. And, and so going forward, obviously, I revised all of my systems. I made sure it was counting days, I’ll on my spreadsheet, but I also did visual checks of each copy of the paperwork in their file before ever saying they could schedule their divorce with that and made sure it never ever, ever happened again. Because I, you know, they were, it’s weird to say that they were so looking forward to being divorced, but they were! And just to have it be like, okay, maybe next Thursday.
Jenn DeWall: And it’s already kind of an emotional situation because there’s things they are going through. And so then to prolong emotional day, that’s a lot. I’m sure you probably didn’t feel great.
Supporting Others When They Make Mistakes at Work
Emily Hastings: I just felt terrible. Like I let them down. They’d been through so much to get to this point. And then you’re, you know, in front of a judge, you know they are, he’s in a robe, he’s got the whole judge thing, you know, he looks regal. Luckily the judge that came in is so sweet, and we’re still friends today. And he was so nice to come up with a quick solution on the fly for us and, and make it happen and make some jokes about it and kind of, you know, break the ice after our recess and, and make everyone feel a little better about it. And without his experience as a judge and his demeanor, I don’t know what I would’ve done cause he really made everybody feel better about it in the moment. And that was a godsend because I was beside myself.
Jenn DeWall: Gosh, what a great observation though about how if we have people that are listening, you’re a leader and your employee maybe just made a mistake, or maybe they’re not your employee, but there’s someone else who’s work impacts your own. In the case of the judge, how can you show up to be a leader, to diffuse the situation, To show that mistakes happen. It’s totally okay and to remain calm in an intense situation. I think that’s a lot of, and there’s a lot to learn about even when we are not directly impacting the problem, that there is a way that we can help to mitigate and reduce the consequences and make it overall better instead of trying to perpetuate the fail.
Emily Hastings: Absolutely. And I think it embodies kind of what I said before about working at the hotel and how I would teach my employees that it doesn’t matter if Susie did it or Harry did it, we did it. And the judge kind of embodied that same spirit of like solution focus and not blame focus because you can sit around all day and be like, no, it’s your fault. No, it’s your fault. No, you did this but that doesn’t solve anything since. Skip that, go right to solutions and keep moving forward and then you can go back and do an autopsy and see what you should have done before the problem but in the moment, don’t point fingers. Find a solution. Keep moving forward.
Jenn DeWall: Yes, those are great. Final words to end on. Emily, thank you so much for joining The Leadership Habit Podcast, and sharing your work fails.
Emily Hastings: Thank you, Jenn, this was fun!
Jenn DeWall: Thank you so much for listening to today’s “Work Fails” minisode. If you enjoyed or if you know someone that maybe is in a similar situation, share this with your friends. Leave us a review. Our goal with work fails is to help everyone understand that mistakes happen and it’s not a matter of whether they happen, it’s about how we deal with them. So if you found this podcast episode useful for you today, feel free to share it with your friends or give us a review on your favorite podcast streaming service. Thanks for listening.