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Nick Bamford: Learning from your mistakes as an adviser

Advisers can learn from their errors if they are willing to admit mistakes

In my first job many years ago, I learned two important lessons that still influence me today. My manager had a rule: the telephone rings just once. He knew the importance of customer care, as well as the disturbance to the rest of the team that the ringing of an unanswered phone causes.

It was fun to see colleagues throwing themselves across desks trying to get to the phone before the second ring.

He may or may not have known that behind his back we called him One Ring Ron. But he influenced our lives for the better.

Ron’s other, more important, rule was about owning up to mistakes. If you sat down in front of his desk and told him about the error you had made but came up with suggestions about how to rectify said error, you would never get a telling off. In fact, you would get praise. On the other hand, try to hide a mistake and you were in for a torrid time once it was uncovered.

He was brilliant in creating an environment where young people could learn to do the job without fear of making errors. Of course, no one deliberately sets out to make mistakes but everyone does. It is how you react when the mistake is discovered that matters.

There are four steps to a robust process of dealing with errors: identifying the problem, communicating it to those affected, apologising and then making it good.

If at all possible, identifying and rectifying an error before the client even notices it is good practice. Few people are arrogant enough to lose their tempers when a mistake is pointed out to them in the way I have described.

It is also about the learning that takes place when a mistake happens. What caused it to happen? Was it a process or systems failure, or simply someone under pressure trying to take a shortcut to get the job done?

Checklists created off the back of an identified error are a good outcome from these experiences.

We do not live in a perfect world but we should constantly strive to get better at what we do. Part of that progress is recognition that we learn far more from our errors than we ever do from our successes.

I am much more suspicious of people who claim to be error-free than those who admit to their failings. Perhaps they were less fortunate than I was not to have a Ron in their early working lives.

“We do not live in a perfect world but we should constantly strive to get better at what we do.”

I found a recent interview with Richard Branson I read quite telling. One question he was asked was how he responded to mistakes he made. Apparently, he swears when they are identified. Why not? It seems like a good way to get it off your chest. More important is that he is prepared to admit to making mistakes.

Crucially, you should not define yourself by a mistake. Remember that everyone makes them. Instead, define yourself by all the good things you do.

After all, I am pretty sure there are many more positive things in our lives than the occasional error.

Nick Bamford is executive director at Informed Choice

He will be joining us at Money Marketing Interactive as a speaker on May 18th

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