Katie Streeter-Hurle, Group Business Director, SMG
In my career, I have made quite a habit of making mistakes.
One of my 'best' mistakes came quite early on when I was working as part of a supply chain team. I was tasked with placing orders for products that were going to be customised (for example, adding a free shave gel onto a razor, or getting a Christmas gift set ready with a moisturiser and serum). In my quest for speed, I made a typo on the product code, and instead of sending small packs of batteries to the customisation centre, I sent huge industrial packs of washing powder. Not the kind of ones you buy in a supermarket, the gigantic packs reserved for cash & carries. Just think for a second about the difference in pack size -.that equates to rather a lot of 'extra' lorries heading up the motorway, at rather a large cost to the business (as I soon found out!). And what's worse, I didn't realise I'd even done it until I was being shouted at down the phone and 'crisis' meetings were being frantically scheduled by my bosses trying to fix the problem.
Whilst I'd love to say that I calmly handled the situation and helped find a quick and effective resolution, I didn't. I cried and decided that the best answer was to offer to quit my first graduate job (which thank goodness, they didn't accept!). On reflection, not my finest hour.
For all of us, whether we are early in our careers or somewhere further down the line, we'll spend our careers making many mistakes. They'll never go away & it's something we have to figure out how to deal with. I often listen to a really insightful podcast called 'How to Fail' by the journalist Elizabeth Day and I love her summary of what failure actually means; 'Learning how to fail is actually learning how to succeed better.' I couldn't agree more.
In learning how to fail, we also learn how to build resilience - our ability to bounce back from challenges and take something constructive from it. I have often worked with colleagues who are unimaginably smart, hard-working and ambitious, and when something goes wrong, they have a huge crisis of confidence. If we could all learn to be just a little more resilient, we'd find life at work just that bit easier.
Thankfully, resilience isn't something that some people have and some people don't - it's an active skill that we can all learn. How we choose to approach life (and importantly, how we respond to all the curveballs that come our way), has a huge impact on our experience. At SMG, we have worked with an occupational psychologist, Jo Bamford, to help us all learn a little bit more about the mindset shifts and behaviours we can use to boost our resilience at work. Here are some bits of advice that we have found helpful, and that you might do too. First off, it's really important to see and treat problems & mistakes as a learning process. If we can develop the habit for ourselves (and our teams) of using challenges as opportunities to acquire or master skills, and build a sense of achievement from them, we will massively improve the level of challenge we can handle. This means helping to move ourselves (and our colleagues) from a fixed mindset to a growth one - you can read lots more about that here. Secondly, it's really important to avoid making a drama out of a crisis. Stress, change and the unexpected are a natural part of our working lives. If you're a team leader, or a manager, it's particularly important to keep a realistic perspective and to help our teams to do the same. Placing challenging events in the broader context of lifelong personal and career development can be really helpful. Okay, so my lorry drama was important & 'big' for a few days. But it was resolved in 24 hours, and in the grand scheme of operations for a global manufacturer, it really wasn't a big deal. We just needed a new process to catch mistakes. Finally, it's important to try to practice optimism. Nothing we face at work is either wholly good or bad. If we can find a way to make our thinking work for our benefit, we can find ways to acknowledge the downsides of situations (and take responsibility for our role in mistakes happening), but we can focus on the upsides too. I am looking forward to the many more mistakes I am certain to make, and hopefully I can help my colleagues in making theirs too.