Uh Oh, I’m Not Perfect. Now What?

Affirmations, stress relief, confidence building; these are just some of the search terms you’ll find in my YouTube browser right now. I have begun listening to guided mediations at bedtime in hopes of being hypnotized into anxiety-free bliss. Mostly though, my day creeps into my night ending with dreams starring murderous yogis in the Tarantino meets Bollywood-inspired, straight-to-blu-ray-hit ‘Reservoir Dogma’. Apparently, I haven’t left my stress at the office.

This week has been full of heat. Me and the team are working hard to complete a long list of projects that take 12 months to develop. Due to unforeseen delays, we’re now down to days to move them out the door or we will miss the ship date. If we miss the ship date, the company loses millions of dollars. If the company loses millions of dollars… well, gulp. Heads will roll, as they say. Or, will they?

With this many hot projects pumping through the company bloodline a lot of mistakes are being made in the rush to cut ‘er open, then fix ‘er up. This also means that tensions are high, anxieties are peaking, and there are many games of Hot Potato being played – or, as my friend Quincy pointed out in my previous article, a lot of yelling at the iceberg instead of dropping the lifeboats. The truth is that it is never just one person’s fault when something goes wrong, so why do we always point the finger? And, why are most of us afraid to admit that we made a mistake instead of owning it?

Accountability is scary because if we make a mistake at work then we are going to get fired, never find another job, lose our homes, lose our families, lose our dreams and end up broke and alone. Or, can we agree that maybe, just sometimes, our fear and paranoia get the best of us and bring out the worst? I am guilty of making up excuses for why things went from bad to worse and I for one would love to excel at openly admitting to the occasional bout of clouded or hasty judgment without second guessing my self worth or my corporate value.

My friend Steve Hulford has worked his way through the food chain in the eat-or-be-eaten world of biznasty. He has offered to walk me through the fire from his perspective. Currently, Steve is the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Filemobile, a Toronto-based software company specializing in publishing solutions for user-generated content. The company services notable international clientele like Maxim Magazine, Kraft, Pepsi and Microsoft and they have attracted recognition from the likes of PROFIT Magazine for their commitment to customer service, product innovation and quality. As a business owner and employer, Steve is knee deep in accountability every day.

Alison: And, here we go…Steve, what’s the biggest risk you have ever taken at work? Was there blame or reward?

Steve: Starting two companies and buying another one! I think the biggest risk of the three was buying a business during the middle of the 2004-2005 hockey strike. Our business depended on revenue from hockey. It was a fantasy sports business. During that time my business partner and I mortgaged our house, and purchased another business. We also started a third business, Filemobile, which I am still working on today. We managed to sell the other two in 2008. At the time we purchased PoolExpert.com, I went four months without income and I had a wife at home on a maternity leave. We put just about everything into the business. There was a lot of concern about money, and where this was all going. During some of those “lean times,” it was hard to not get down and to doubt myself. We knew that the type of business we were in was a seasonal business but we were not sure that the business we purchased would suffer from the hockey strike. In September of 2005, hockey came back and we watched the web stats of our business climb, and business came in; it exceeded our expectations. We were able to double the company’s revenue in three years and sell it for 10 times what we paid for it. The accountability was to my family in this case, and my business partner. We had to stick together and stick it out.

Alison: What is the most noticeable reaction among employees when it comes to being accountable? Do people welcome it or run from it?

Steve: You need to empower people to do their best and allow them to make mistakes and learn and grow from them. It really depends on the person if they are willing/ready to be accountable and take charge. Many run from it, and do whatever they can to hide from it. Few welcome it and charge ahead and try to make things happen. You need to work with what you have, and play to people’s strength. Finding strong talent and keeping them engaged and growing is the single hardest thing to do, but it has the greatest impact on success.

Alison: Have you ever been blamed for someone else’s mistake? If yes, did you speak up or shoulder the burden?

Steve: I have worked with business partners for the last nine years and my only boss has really been my clients. There are lots of cases where there is finger pointing when a project goes sideways. I always try to be honest and take blame when it is warranted, and when it is not I stick up for my employees, our company and myself. To be successful, our company is providing service to our clients but we are really business partners. We have to work together to make things successful. We can’t do it on our own. So, we need to be accountable and when we are not we admit it, when we are not at fault we fight tooth and nail for our reputation.

Alison: Do you have any advice for your professionals who are afraid to make mistakes (at work)?

Steve: The only way to grow and be successful is to make mistakes. Try to find a supportive environment that welcomes people who take risks. Work your butt off, and know your stuff. If you do, you can find ways to add value in your business. When you see opportunities and you have sized up your chance of success, stick your neck on the line and go for it. Build partnerships with your colleagues and work together to make things happen. It is good to know someone has your back. Find out what you are good at and be super focused on exploiting that to show you can succeed.

Alison: Thanks Steve.

Steve: Thanks.

Well, I think the Tiger Lady, J.C. Wiatt, summed it up in the 1987 Hollywood classic Baby Boom, when she said, “…now look. There is nothing in the world to get uptight about. We are two summa cum laudes. We can handle one little baby for eight hours.”

My takeaway from Hulford and Diane Keaton: No one is perfect. Not your boss, not your clients, not your colleagues…not even me or you, but we can take our lumps with humility. If we put our minds to it, no obstacle is too big to overcome – not pride, not rejection, not conflict and not the big baby in us that sometimes just wants to cry when the sh*t hits the fan.