Managers: It is NEVER OK to be a jerk

Earlier today I had a conversation with a friend. She had just been chewed out by her manager. It seems my friend had let a typo slip into some copy. Normally a typo wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but this one was in the price for an item. Customers saw the typo’d price, contacted people to make a purchase and were disappointed to learn that the price was incorrect. They complained to the manager. He took it out on my friend and her coworker. I believe the phrase my friend used was something about being glad she’d managed not to cry when her manager was yelling at them.

From where I stand, there is nothing correct in the way this incident was handled. There is never a good reason to be a jerk. There is never a good reason to bring an employee to the brink of tears. And, because it bears repeating: There is never a good reason to be a jerk.

While I’m not familiar with the intimate details of the situation in question, I’m going to hazard a guess at a healthier, more professional and more productive way to approach it…

  • Be open with your customers. Unless you’ve cornered some freaky market about which the rest of us have no knowledge, your customers are human. If an error is discovered, openly and honestly notify them and apologize for it (even if they haven’t approached you about the error). They will understand that mistakes happen and appreciate you proactively approaching them about it. Odds are they’ll forget about the error or, if they remember it at all, it will be with a positive feeling thanks to how you handled it.
  • Figure out how the error occurred. A harmful typo got into the wild? A product flaw? Site crashed? Complaining about it and attacking people does not fix the problem. Instead, channel your energy and the energy of your team into locating when, where and how the error crept in and how it was allowed to be exposed to the customers. THIS DOES NOT MEAN FIND SOMEONE TO BLAME. By looking to point fingers and assign blame you make everyone uncomfortable and set up barriers to people revealing errors in the future. While, yes, a human made the error that does not mean (s)he is to blame for it. If there is proof that the error was a willful effort by someone to cause damage then, yes, there is blame. But otherwise it’s just what it is: an error. An error which can be prevented. To whit…
  • Set up a process to prevent the error. Even something as “simple” as writing and publishing copy involves a complicated set of processes and procedures. If there is an error then odds are good that the problem is not with the person but with those processes. Fix that so that the error will not happen again.

Mistakes happen. It’s a part of life and therefore a part of business. Embrace them and learn from them. Don’t pillory your people. Don’t be a jerk.