Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

8 Necessary Steps to Make Your Mistakes WRITE!

8 Necessary Steps to Make Your Mistakes WRITE! 150 150 MIchael and Bonnie Harvey

One of our favorite topics is making mistakes write. Yes, WRITE, like W-R-I-T-E, not just RIGHT. When we started Barefoot Wine, we made so many mistakes that we became experts at it. It then felt natural to create a process for making mistakes.

Our company was a success, but it was built on a foundation of mistakes. Our contracts were just three pages long when we started our business, but 20 years later, when we sold it, they were 37 pages long! We made 34 pages of mistakes along the way.

And that isn’t even the half of it! Our mistakes actually made all of our company’s documentation even better, beyond contract clauses. How? Well, we never put a good mistake to waste!

Here’s our guide to making mistakes write:

  1. Permission

Make sure you and your people have permission to make mistakes, as long as they do so in a way that betters your company. Many new hires come from environments that frown upon mistakes, whether that be their school, family, or a previous employer. They could’ve been embarrassed, punished, or even worse—fired—for making a mistake. You can’t blame them for not wanting to admit to their mistakes! And you can’t blame them for quick fixes, throwing a patch on the problem, saying, “Yeah, there was an issue, but it’s fine now.” That attitude must be changed with a culture of permission. Of course, if they are simply incompetent, they have to go. But sometimes, even the most competent person is afraid to admit to a mistake.

  1. Admission

Yes, you must admit when a mistake is made. Avoid exacerbation and cover yourself. It’s always better when you own up, apologize, and develop a plan to prevent the mistake from happening again. We refer to this as, “Aim, don’t blame!” Blame makes you a victim and it’s disempowering. Take ownership and aim your energy on preventing the mistake in the future. To put it simply, be responsible and clean up your own mess.

  1. Cause

All mistakes are caused by a misconception, misrepresentation, or miscommunication. Identifying these factors is your first step in making a mistake write. We’re all guilty of assuming something about the other person’s actions, and when we’re wrong, things don’t go well. As someone once said, “A-s-s-u-m-e: It makes an ASS out of U and ME!” When you can nail down the cause, you’re already on your way to improvement.

  1. Documentation

Identify any documents that need to be created, fixed, or improved in order to prevent future mistakes. Yes—documents! It could be a checklist, a job description, a signoff sheet, a procedure, a label, or even a clause in a contract. Maybe it’s a big sign above a low ledge that reads, “DUCK!”

  1. Write!

Write everything down. The mistake, the causes, and all revised documents that must be incorporated into your company. Get others involved in this process. Ask your people for suggestions and opinions, and ask other companies as well. Then, you can create new policies and procedures that will prevent the mistake from reoccurring as often. Just one mistake can improve several documents at the same time.

  1. Approval

If your revised documents get lost in the shuffle and are just filed and forgotten, you’ve wasted all your time. You need to get everyone involved. Distribute the new policy and make sure everyone signs off on it. Think about those outside of your company that need to give their approval, too. This is a great way to dissolve hard feelings and to prevent putting others at fault. Create a log where all of these signoffs are kept—this is a useful training tool for new hires. They can see proof of mistakes made and how the new policies and procedures will prevent them in the future.

  1. Acknowledgement

If someone on your team makes a mistake, but makes it “write”, publicly acknowledge them. People thrive on a higher authority’s validation, and on their peers’ approval. Simply write a memo and distribute it to the whole team: “Susan noticed an ongoing problem and improved our procedures to prevent it from happening again.” Now, you’ll notice three things will happen. First, everyone will know who Susan is, what she does for the company, and how she made the company better. Then, they’ll know that they’ll also be appreciated when they resolve an issue. Lastly, Susan is motivated to continue improving the company.


  1. And repeat!

One of our senior execs didn’t exactly appreciate this policy—“You’re trying to idiot-proof everything!” We quickly responded, “Not exactly. We’re making things idiot-resistant!” He said, “That could be true, but at this very moment, they’re building a better idiot!” And he was right! The target is always moving. So we added clause after clause to our contracts until they were 37 pages long.

You will make mistakes. Your people will make mistakes. So why not make them write?

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