I'm not the only one
June 24, 2008 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Help me cover my ass.

I was recently put in charge of an editing project. In the course of the project, I worked with another person who I clearly tasked a few specific high-priority issues to.

I neglected to fully follow up on her regarding a few of those issues, and now I've been pulled back in to correct some errors that I should have caught the first time around. In particular, she neglected to do anything about 3 major issues that had been specifically mentioned by our client.

I was in charge of the project, and the fact that I signed off without making sure those errors were corrected is my responsibility. Still, is there some message I can send the project manager to fess up but still make clear that my associate messed up as well without seeming like a jerk?

I was thinking something along the lines of "I regret these three 3 issues getting past me - I had tasked them to [ ] and didn't follow up to make sure they were finished."

Does that sound too passive-aggressive?

My main concern is to maintain a good working relationship with my client.

Any thoughts? What do you do in similar situations?
posted by mammary16 to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think you've got to end the sentence at "I regret these three* issues getting past me." Anything else sounds, well, like you're trying to cover your ass and shift blame. When you get right down to it, you were in charge and it was your responsibility to make sure the errors were corrected.

*(Or you could keep your version and say "these three 3" but if you're an editor apologizing for errors, I'd recommend against it.)
posted by kate blank at 6:42 AM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I always use the passive voice for these sorts of things. The letter was not sent, etc.

That's why you almost always should use the active voice--because then you can use the passive for specific things.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:43 AM on June 24, 2008

Yes, too passive-aggressive. Own it. Ultimately, you will receive the credit for a successful project, the price for which is to take complete responsibility for any of it's short-comings.
posted by kisch mokusch at 6:43 AM on June 24, 2008

Well, I work in banking and I'd handle more as "Apologies for not catching the errors. I take full responsibility and this won't happen again"

Short, to the point, closes the immediate issue, putting it in the past.

And you're not blaming someone who reports to you. After all, you're in charge, you're ultimately responsible for the delivery.
posted by Mutant at 6:44 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

To answer your questions, yes it does sound passive aggressive. It was your responsibility, so own up to it and learn from it.

What I would say is something along the lines of "sorry, I let it get past me, I'll do my best to make sure it doesn't happen again" without pushing the blame downstream.
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:47 AM on June 24, 2008

The client doesn't care who, specifically, was responsible for the errors; only that there were errors, and now, that they are corrected, and don't happen again. Blaming someone else within your organization is unprofessional, and would only serve to raise greater questions in your client's mind about how dysfunctional your company is. Who is personally responsible is a strictly internal matter, and should stay that way. From your client's viewpoint, it's a failure of your organization as a whole, and should be treated as such.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:49 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Devil's Advocate.

To the client: Issue has to be your fault. Anything else is unprofessional.

Internally: Go directly to the person who made the initial errors and have a counseling session.
posted by Futurehouse at 8:23 AM on June 24, 2008

I'd add to DevilsAdvocate's and Futurehouse's sage advice a third to do:

Include follow up with your minions in your process, particularly concerning corrections sought by the client. Because clients always ask for corrections. That's how they "own" the project. And how they test you.
posted by notyou at 8:36 AM on June 24, 2008

Best answer: When I screw up client work, I try to own up, and I'm usually prepared to explain to the client why it won't happen again next time. This is usually described as an enhancement or a change to the current production process, so there will be better controls in place next time. I'm usually not called on to discuss that part of it, but when I am, it's far better to have it prepared and instantly at hand.

This doesn't have to be a "blame the employee" thing; it's better to describe it in neutral language: "We failed to complete the 3 milestones, as we had handed those off to a separate group for production. We didn't have enough milestone checks on that part of the project, so future work will include bi-weekly status meetings and daily checkins during the last three weeks of the project".
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:55 AM on June 24, 2008

You're the project manager, it's your fault.
posted by electroboy at 9:57 AM on June 24, 2008

I like to expand the scope of the conversation, so that it's not just about my mistake anymore. Own the mistake, but give the client something to think about besides the mistake.

"I let these three mistakes get past me, but now they have been corrected. However, I realized while making the changes that we really ought to be thinking about X, Y, and Z. Which is your preference? I'd recommend X." etc.

Ending any statement to a client with a confession of your errors is basically the same thing as bending over and asking to be spanked.
posted by bingo at 10:06 AM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

You were the only one in charge. So yeah, you are the only one. If someone wants to know why, then that's a different story.

It wasn't your job to do all the work but it was your job to make sure it got done.
So yeah this is purely your fault - live and learn!

Maybe use this as an opportunity to show your superiors how well you handle less than favorable situations, both as a person and as an employee?
ie. No whining about how "It's not fair" and "It's not even my fault" and just fix it!! Then you are free to bitch about them. The trouble they caused, the extra work and ect. it cost you, and by extension the company...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:44 AM on June 24, 2008

Bingo's response is a good one, except that I have found clients think I'm offering to do these extra things FOR FREE BECAUSE WE SCREWED UP OMG. If you're offering scope change, sell it as scope change and bill for the new work.

I just spent 4 months fixing a problem caused by one of my team members. I took the fall for it with the client, but used it as an opportunity to introduce a new and redundant checkpoint in our process. Win for the client, who liked the extra accountability, win for me because I identified/acknowledged/fixed the situation, and not so much win for the team member. However, the issue with the team member was brought up only in discussion between me and my manager, who handled the situation.
posted by catlet at 10:49 AM on June 24, 2008

I think Ironmouth's advice is bad. When someone uses that passive voice to me, I instinctively label them as a responsibility ducker.

I have supervised or coordinate many things where people had to report to me. Often, being people, they mess up. The ones I have respected most have been most direct about it.

I would not only respect, I would promote someone who said "I messed up" about six levels past the person who said "mistakes were made" or "somehow this was missed" or other such transparent weaselry.

So I'm seconding all those above who say "take the bullet." You'll be more respected for it.

(And next time don't trust that same person with such key work and such broad faith!)
posted by rokusan at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2008

coordinateD, obviously, and the ensuing tense corrections. I need an editor.
posted by rokusan at 11:37 AM on June 24, 2008

It is your fault.
You didn't follow up.

Follow up next time.
posted by konolia at 11:56 AM on June 24, 2008

Take personal responsibility. Snuggle right up to it and give it a big hug. This will usually make you look more responsible, not less. Give a sincere but short apology and then talk about moving forward with as much purpose (the purpose of having a happy client) as possible.

Don't even go into the Why. The client doesn't care about your internal dramas and it looks like you're trying to throw blame (which you are). The client can't make any changes in your organization. They can't hire or fire your people, reprimand them or make sure they live up to internal policies. That's you're job, that's why they hired you, so they wouldn't have to run your business.

They'll learn enough of the Why when you explain exactly what steps you're taking to deal with the shortfall.

Do say exactly what changes you've made to make sure it never happens again.

If possible find something in this change that will make the client's experience better. (Better than getting work done on time.) For example "Because of unanticipated problems producing X, we have found new redundant suppliers for X. With the new suppliers we are better prepared to deal with supply shortages, and we can also now deal with higher volume orders and can now offer services Y and Z." (Sorry for the commodities rather than services example.)

Don't say "It'll never happen again" because that's not owning up to the problem, and no one ever believes those words, especially if they stand alone.
posted by Ookseer at 12:13 PM on June 24, 2008

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