Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What's the worst mistake you've ever made...

Mistakes- love 'em, hate 'em, we all make 'em!

This week I am doing final interviews for new additions into our Graduate Consultant programme.  Our Service Delivery Manager has screened over 45 applicants to get to a shortlist of 7 for me to interview.

For years I've had a toolkit of questions I've used to look at character and personality when interviewing, but my favourite question to ask new staff is "What's the worst mistake you've ever made?".  This is usually followed with "How many people did it impact and what did you learn from it?".  

I will simply not hire people if they answer "I don't make mistakes" or "I can't think of anything".  I am looking for people who can recognise mistakes are part of life.  We all make them and we should all learn from them, if we cannot recognise and share our mistakes with others, it will certainly slow a new graduates growth in their role.

There is however a funny side to this story.  Today in an interview, it reminded me of a few of the answers I've had in the past, normally we'd expect someone to give a relevant business example such as - sending an email to the wrong person or not meeting a deadline.  Here are some of the goodies I can recall:-

"Getting Married"
(I did not really feel I could ask the later part of the question- and what did you learn from this!).

"Going into business with my husband"
(not such a great thing to say to a husband and wife owned business when you are being interviewed by the wife!)

"Getting Divorced"
(see above- also another hard one to follow-up with

"Going off my anti-depressant medication"- they then went on to explain the result of the after-math of what happened. 

One of the better ones I remember was a few years ago when someone told me when they were developing and working for a Bank, they released something into production and shut down a Bank in the UK.  When I asked how many people were impacted, he just said, "thousands and thousands of people".  He was also rather pale even having to think about the incident.

When I was discussing this in the office about "what's your worst mistake", I was reminded of a recent incident which is certainly one of our teams "Dick of the month" awards also.

We had to move furniture out of a house we rented in Hamilton for a project we were working on.  It was fully furnished and we decided to move the extra beds and furniture into a meeting room in our Hamilton office for temp storage.  Our offices are on the 15th Floor of the Tower Building in Hamilton.  In the bottom of the building is Centre Place Shopping Mall- the largest CBD shopping mall in Hamilton.  We have basement access to service lifts to move things up and down the floors.  So Wayne and another manager from work, hired a truck and went about collecting the furniture to move the 3 or 4 kms to the office. 

On arrival into the basement car-park, the boys (note - who's day jobs are working in an office) swung around into a car-park and in the process completely broke off a fire sprinkler.  Water was coming out at a rapid rate....and the fire-alarms were automatically activated.

What happened from here was the following:- total evacuation of one of Hamilton's largest shopping malls, including ALL retail stores (the likes of Pascoes Jewellers, Jeans West, Meccano, Stevens). 

This also followed by a full evacuation of the Food Court.  This was then followed by the evacuation of the Movie Theatre (yes people were at the movies!).  Not only this, it also evacuated the 15 stories of office floors above.  In addition, 4 Fire Engines were called out and the Sprinkler service Company, the Fire System Company and of course, the land-lord.  Yes, they CLOSED down a shopping centre!

The odd thing was that the story I was given was "Oh, we had a few problems with the truck today- we knocked a sprinkler off in the basement".  It took a number of weeks and a rather large bill to discover the real story, needless to say, the story is now out and all I can say is thanks for insurance!

So the lesson learnt from this mistake- when driving a truck into a basement, just because it fits under the height sign, does not mean that it will clear everything.  The second lesson, always fess up, the boss WILL find out somehow- it's just a matter of time!

So you are probably wondering- what's my worst mistake?

Updating a customers entire General Ledger balance for all accounts to -.03 cents.  I still remember that sick sinking feeling when I did it to this day! (I did fix it later on with help from a friend- who is also a friend still to this day!)

However, this would have to be closely followed by dropping every index on a consulting assignment for New Zealand Customs PeopleSoft Finance System when I was trying to fix a performance problem.  I then had to sit in the same area where the team was working and hear their horrified comments when screens started taking 20 minutes to load.  It took me 2 days to recover the system and I have never felt so bad in my life as it was 2 days of constant complaints and I could not hide anywhere! 

The worst thing was that I also made a further mistake while I was there- I had to take a call and was on the phone outside the building where there were two sets of almost identical sliding doors.  When I came back in and up the lift, I was horrified to see my handbag was not at my desk and my notepad appear to be moved.  When I walked around further into the office, I had that sinking feeling and then a rather burning red face.  I was not even at my desk.  Nor was I in the right floor or even the right building.  I looked up and saw the sign "Department of Corrections".  Brilliant- I had managed to walk in the wrong door, get in the wrong lift and sit at a desk in the wrong company...and it was the Department of Corrections- could I have picked anywhere worse!!

So how does one exit such an awkward situation after you have just made an outburst about where you things had been moved??

You just walk at a normal pace, like you know everyone there, smile as you pass their desks.  Wait at the lift, get in and then hold your hands to your face and turn purple. 
Then, walk back into New Zealand Customs like nothing ever happened!

So what did I learn- NEVER exit a building you do not know when you are on your mobile- cellphones are distracting at the best of time and can potentially put you in jail, if you walk into the wrong place!

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