When did you last apologise to someone?
Recently I was in conversation with a colleague when we came upon the topic of apologising at work. Something we do quite often, but not something to think long and hard about. Yet it did prompt me to wonder, when did I last apologise to someone?
Really apologise, not just your average throw-away apology, but an apology that really means something to both parties.
We make mistakes in the workplace more than we like to admit, but sometimes our actions go one step too far, even with the best of intentions. How we deal with these situations can shape our relationships, our career opportunities, the health of our businesses and even our sense of self. As galling as it can be, apologies must sometimes be made and we’d better not make a meal of them.
So I thought about the last heart-felt apology I’d made and it struck me almost immediately. The last real apology wasn’t that long ago, just a few days before this conversation happened.
It took place over chat, which is possibly the least effective human-human communication medium, and was over in a matter of minutes. It was not painful, but it was heartfelt and it prompted me to act to prevent it from happening again to other people.
It had to do with money, to be precise, how soon money would change hands. The lady had fulfilled her side of the bargain and we’d told her that payments happen on Fridays. Naturally she understood this meant the money would be in her bank account on Friday, which was by this point, highly unlikely.
I don’t know if she was depending on the money or if it was just a nice cash bonus, either way she was expecting something that we could not deliver. Worse, it was an expectation we had set. I apologised immediately for causing the misunderstanding and explained what would happen next. The money would be in her account by Monday, perhaps Tuesday at the latest. That wasn’t great news to share, but it was better to be frank with her than set further expectations for things far beyond my control.
The apology was accepted and the next day (Saturday!) the lady told me the money had arrived. What a turnaround! But the damage was done. I wasn’t happy to be in this position so I began to brainstorm ideas with my team, how to avoid it in the future. Some of the ideas:
- Move the weekly payments day to Thursday
- Move the weekly payments day to Monday
- Change the way we communicate
- Change the nature and frequency of payments
This seemed like moving the problem one day earlier, as some banks would require 2 days to process, resulting in people waiting until Monday or Tuesday. No improvement.
This seemed like a good idea, until we realised we were simply forcing our recipients to wait over the weekend for payment to occur. What looks on the surface to be an improvement, is actually less ideal for people who would have received cash on the Friday
Instead of saying “payment will be made on Friday”, we could set clearer expectations by saying something like “we will transfer payments on Friday, you will receive your money by Monday or CoB Tuesday” (or words to that effect). Not great, but at least the recipient is under no false pretences. This is what we’ve done, for now.
We make payments weekly, but that’s a function of the volume of transactions we handle and the proportion of transactions we need to handle manually. Skoutli’s vision is to create a platform where millions of hosts and producers can connect and transact, which cannot depend on the diligence of financial controllers making weekly cash transfers. Ultimately this is what we need to work towards, increasing the volume and building better, more automated systems to handle our payments, but we know it will take time and dedication, not something to build in a day.
This simple act — apologising for a miscommunication with a customer — was a thread that connected us to the very heart and vision of the company. What does Skoutli want to be and how do we want to serve our users. How do we want people to feel about us, and what kind of positive impact can we have in their lives. It seems innocuous, but in truth it was anything but.
The next time you find yourself apologising (and really meaning it), remember this moment and use it as an opportunity to learn how we can do better. Then it won’t only be an apology, it will be a chance to thank someone for showing you an opportunity for improvement.
It actually wasn’t that long ago,
Not something to think long and hard about
Recently someone asked me when was the last time I apologised to someone at work. It was admittedly an odd question to be asked, though it did prompt some head scratching and