Repairing Screw-Ups: Three Ways to Ask for Help

We all screw up from time to time. The best course of action is to "man up" about your failings and get the help you need to get back on track.

But there is a right way and a wrong way to ask others to comment on your performance, according to J. Richard Hackman, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University.

Talking to HBR.org's Amy Gallo, Hackman says don't start by asking open-ended questions. "It's generally much more constructive and helpful to seek confirmation and disconfirmation of one's own assessment than to ask someone to respond to an open-ended question about one's performance," Hackman says.

Other must-dos on the road to correction, according to Gallo:

  1. Come clean with the boss. Forget offering rationalizations and excuses -- tell the boss you have underperformed and ask for help.
  2. Involve mentors, peers and direct reports. This not only gives you numerous viewpoints, but also shows them you are tackling the problem head on.
  3. Restore your reputation. Share your rehab successes with others. Hackman suggests this language: "I've been doing some work to improve the degree to which I do X. Have you noticed any changes? Are there additional things you might recommend I consider?"
Gallo's piece Help! I'm an Underperformer has other great tips for recovering after a fall.

Here's the first thing I do after a whopper. I calm down by thinking of the Lockheed Martin engineering team that lost a $125 million Mars lander because some on the team measured in the metric system, others in English units. Must have made for a great after-action review.

How do you recover?

(Image by theihno, CC 2.0)