An expensive lesson March 28, 2009Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Fixing performance problems, Grow your skills, Keeping Your Customers, Performance issues.
Tags: client focus, cross culture, global interaction, learning from mistakes, lesson learned, losing a client, mistake, service recovery, staying focused
You do not want to do this! This story is definitely not a Big Dogz story — it is about a learning opportunity I personally experienced. I hope you will learn from my mistake.
A client gave me an opportunity to lead a two-day workshop in the UK. This was an important engagement for me since this was my first workshop for this company and there was the possibility that I would get more work with them if I did well. I worked hard to prepare for this engagement. I created a couple of new exercises that I thought would add significant value to the experience. I felt well prepared and confident of success. The results were disastrous from my perspective.
About an hour into the first day, I was debriefing the opening exercise — having the participants introduce themselves and identify the top three challenges facing them in this topic area. One of the participants noted that in his group people were trying to solve the challenges instead of performing the assigned task of identifying the challenges, He noted this behavior detracted from the effectiveness of the group. This is where I started to get into trouble!
My response to his observation was a flip “Yes, that is one of the things about you Brits that irritate us.” Now why I would say such an idiotic thing is beyond me. It must have been the result of a dysfunctional synapse in my brain. After 16 years leading workshops on interpersonal skills, one would think that such words would never come out of my mouth. I have been working internationally for my entire business career spanning 39 years. I know such utterances are not effective. Nonetheless, I, in fact spoke those words. Now that incident was just the introduction to my lesson.
During the break, an observer from the HR department (yes, I said that in front of a person from the HR department) let me know that what I said was insulting to the participants. I agreed and I expressed my appreciation to her for bringing it to my attention. Even though I said those words, I did not actually remember saying them until she told me. Even I was appalled that I would say such a thing only 90 minutes into my workshop. Now is when I made the major mistake that caused the disaster. I know that the most effective action in this situation is to admit the mistake, apologize for it and ask for forgiveness.
Did I do that? No! I engaged the participants when they returned from the break and got caught up in the excitement of moving forward. They were asking questions and participating. The apology slipped my mind. As the rest of the workshop unfolded, I was very pleased with the engagement and learning of the participants. The engagement level was very high, there appeared to be a very positive rapport between the participants and myself. If there were any signs that people were insulted or offended, I missed them. I made a decision that an apology was no longer necessary and might even be counter productive.
At the end of the two days, I experienced a very warm close to the workshop. Many of the participants approached me personally to shake my hand and to thank me for helping them in the topic area. I felt very good about the workshop. In fact, I sent an email to the account executive telling him of the success of the workshop. The participants would do the workshop evaluations online in the next few days.
About a week later, I received an email from the account executive informing me that the client thought the workshop was successful, but I had offended some of the participants with my comments about British culture. As a result, I was no longer welcome as a facilitator at this company. I was looking forward to hearing about how pleased the customer was with the workshop; instead, I received this horrible news. You can imagine how that felt. After I recovered from the shock of this news, I decided to take action.
The first order of action was to admit to myself that this incident was a result of my actions and therefore my responsibility. There were no extenuating circumstances that I would blame. I did it and I did not recover like I knew I could have. Next, I sent an apology to the customer contact. You are reading the third action I took. If someone of my experience can make a mistake like this, then there must be a lesson that I can share with others.
The key lesson I learned in this experience is to stay focused on everything I need to do to be effective. I focused solely on making the workshop successful in terms of the participant learning but I lost focus on my interpersonal responsibility to respect the participants. That last sentence was really hard for me to write!
I paid a very high tuition for this lesson and I hope that you will take advantage of my learning opportunity. I know that I will never make this mistake again!