I know that taking full responsibility for one's mistakes is considered the best policy, but I am in a situation where I feel that doing so would not be entirely accurate.

About a year ago, I was assigned with a task to write a draft text to use in an official company presentation - I was told at that time not to focus too much on it and to just lay out the bigger picture. A draft, not a final version. I did my very best at that time, but also took into account other tasks that had higher priority.

Many months later, after I had been promoted to a different role, many of my drafts were actually used in print material. And today someone pointed out that there was a huge mistake in the text I had written (which makes our product sound inferior!).

It was my mistake, but I hadn't entirely finished or proofread that work.

Should I say "Sorry, it was my mistake and I'll correct it. We didn't prioritize this work too much when we wrote it so I didn't spend too much time on it"? Or should I just omit the second phrase?

EDIT: ok, it's a bit more difficult actually. Shortly before they published, I vaguely remember someone asking me informally if I was happy with what I had written and if it was ok to publish. And I said "yes, sure" without properly checking :(

  • If you are not responsible for that work anymore, why are the mistakes being pointed out to you, and who is pointing them out? If someone else is responsible for publishing, then they are responsible for checking content as well. If they cannot, then they should be responsible for asking for your (or someone else's review) first. – jmac Oct 3 '13 at 23:50
  • You don't actually say you're getting blamed for what happened. Just to clarify: What have people said to you so far? – dcaswell Oct 4 '13 at 1:29

OK, so I'd say, don't own stuff that is part of a bigger picture. For a large presentation, accuracy and content checking really shouldn't rely on one person. Shoddy review and proper editing is a team issue, not an individual. So saying "I'm sorry for not managing something that isn't mine to manage" doesn't make a lot of sense.

But own the things you could have done better:

  • Many people mark drafts with big obvious letters that say "DRAFT" - in fact it's pretty easy to add it as a background on your slide deck or as a header/footer in a document. Then there's never any ambiguity in what the state of the document is. Doing some sort of practice so that you - and others - know where the work stands is highly advisable. I'm not sure it's so much the company's job to tell you to do this - many people do it without being asked.

  • Don't give a signoff on something when you don't know the state. Clearly you hadn't worked on this in a long time... so chances are, answering without really reading the latest draft was a bad plan. "I'm not sure and I don't have time for a review right now" is an OK answer. A better one, in hindsight, than just saying "yes".

Those two things are fair criticisms of ways you could have done this better.

Saying "I really didn't make an effort" is never a great plan (even when it's true). It's too easy to have that be interpreted as "I really didn't care about doing this job right".

A better wording would be - "My apologies for the oversight. I should have made it clear that this was a draft that needed a final review... there's this problem, let's fix it this way...". As with anything, make apologies short and sweet and don't worry about justifications or excuses - move right into a positive way to fix the problem.

  • 1
    Yep, when blamestorming begins, it's always best to remember that while one person may have made a mistake, everyone failed to notice it. – Carson63000 Oct 4 '13 at 0:49
  • +1 for the "Draft" watermark - start doing that from now on, and it can become a great interview answer for "tell me about a failure..." – user2813274 Aug 19 '14 at 14:02

This is a bit open ended without knowing some more details and also I am not clear if you are being asked to provide a justification or just want to do it to clear your conscience ?

Nevertheless, this has always happened with me. Manager would ask me to create a presentation saying 'Just make a straw man (brief outline) - something we will revisit' Once the straw man was in place he would ask me to 'just beef it up - be a wordsmith- we will revisit this when required'. Done. And after forgetting about it for a few weeks the slides would come up at various client meetings. This was embarrassing for me. Primarily because I had invented a few words that I thought I could laugh about with my manager over a beer.

If something wrong is being pointed out - even if you had worded it as draft and the emails say its a draft, what can you do now, the damage is done. Anyone can edit the text and remove the word draft just before the presentation. I realized that the best thing was to wait for the appropriate moment and say 'Wow - look at that - I never thought this draft would be the last option for our team. Wish I could polish it a little more'

I never made another draft thinking this will really just remain a draft.

  • In your situation, did anyone point out flaws in your slides? Did you have to own up to any mistakes or make apologies? – jmort253 Oct 5 '13 at 3:18
  • @jmort253 I was the only one making them slides in that team. So everyone knew whom to look at (or to be in the pantry and talk about the presentation). – happybuddha Oct 7 '13 at 15:13

In this specific case, I'd suggest avoiding taking it on yourself. Instead, simply acknowledge that it needs to be corrected.

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