The big screw up was my fault but they do not know yet

Screw Up by Contractor
Screw Up by Contractor

Big Screw Up

This, about a big screw up of his, is from Dave.

Dr. McLaughlin, I work for a major bank on the South Coast.

There was a big screw up at work which cost a lot of downtime and one hell of a flea in the ear for the IT manager from the business users and the big chief.

They‘ve managed to find a short term work around.

It first it didn‘t dawn on me, but I‘ve now realised that it was all my fault.

The big problem is that the company doesn‘t know that is was my fault yet. But they will, as they have appointed a small team to find out the root cause of the problem.

Screw Up – The Problem

Without going into all the details, as they are confidential, as my company don‘t want them to leak out, I basically changed something while I was in making another change.

Whilst making another change, I spotted what I thought was something minor that was wrong. So I decided to change it.

Therefore there was no authorisation for the change!

I didn‘t realise that it would have quite such devastating consequences. It changes totally the way they do things.

I don‘t know what to do, whether just to admit it or just wait till they find out.

Negotiating a Renewal

There is a further complication in the fact that they I am currently negotiating the renewal of my contract. I‘m expecting to hear in about a couple of days.

I‘d hate to be out of work in the current climate. That’s especially as I live on the South Coast and I can literally walk to and from work.

Should I admit it now, or should I have a race against time to get my contract renewal before it gets found out?

Dr. McLaughlin’s IT Surgery


You‘ve given me a tricky one here – and if you get it wrong you could be out of a job. You might be out of one anyway whether the contract gets signed or not.

Any advice I give here is not given wit a great deal of confidence. If anyone else here wishes to give different or even opposite advice, I wouldn‘t argue against them.

I think the best way to approach it would be for me to think what I would do in this situation. You may, or not decide to do what I would do.

They‘ll Find Out About the Screw Up

First of all, I would say that they are certain to find out what caused it. They will trace the problem. Definitely, they will also look at the log of changes to the program or programs. They will notice that the changes were made at the same time as you made your last changes to the program.

So, they will know it was you!

The big problem for you is that they obviously have procedures and you acted outside them. There are no companies anywhere that allow their IT staff to make unauthorised changes to programs.

There really is no defence for this. It was completely stupid of you to do this, and I hope that all those people out there reading this are never tempted to do it.

Won‘t be Saved

I think that once they find out who it was and what you did and that you stepped completely outside what you were supposed to do, they will sack you anyway. That’s under most scenarios, whether your contract renewal has been signed or not.

Perhaps you may feel that you would get some extra Notice money this way. However, I would say that they probably have a clause in their contract with the agency that allows them to get rid of you without Notice for something like this.

You therefore have to grasp the ‘nettle by the horns‘ and tell them.

Would be Worse

Can you imagine if you don‘t what they would say? They would say ‘not only did you make an unauthorised change which cost the business a lot of money and damaged the credibility of the department, but you knew all along that it was your fault. Yet you let us spend even more money and even more time working it out, costing us even greater credibility?’

I‘ll give you just one guess as to how the rest of the conversation will go – signed contract or unsigned contract.

No, you definitely have to tell them.

It‘s very risky and you may still get sacked anyway, but there is no real alternative.

The advantage that you have in telling them yourself is that you get the best opportunity to put the best gloss on it that you can. If someone else gets the chance to tell the big boss that it was ‘the contractor‘s fault‘ then they will also get the opportunity to put the boot in. That’s if they even need to. You won‘t be there to put any mitigating circumstances on it at all.

What I‘d Do

Here‘s what I would do.

I‘d arrange to see the big boss straight away. Tell him that it is urgent. If he is doing something else tell him that you have the solution to the big screw-up.

Even if you were the original causer of the problem, the fact that you also have the solution will give you some kudos. It will come as great relief to him as his bosses and peers are still awaiting the results of his investigation. Each hour that goes past without him having a solution causes him even greater credibility problems.

You must tell him what you did and why you did it. . Of course, you didn‘t do it out of badness. You did it to help the company. Unfortunately it was completely stupid and way outside proper procedures.

You have to admit that you shouldn‘t have done it. However, say that you did it in good faith. Say also that you will never make the mistake of doing it again.

Get to the Boss first

It‘s very important that you speak to the big boss before you speak to the team trying to solve it. Telling them the solution first is almost as bad as not telling anyone at all and letting them work it out.

All they‘ll do is tell the big boss what the ‘idiot contractor‘ did and tell him that the contractor has also admitted it.

That would almost certainly be curtains for you!

It‘s crucial that you get your strike in first. You caused the problem, but you also solved the problem. Also, you’ve admitted that it was your fault, and you‘ve said that it will never happen again.

You have also got to the solution before the appointed team and so you have saved time, money and further lost credibility.

You took action as soon as you knew that it was your fault and you were man enough to put your hand up and admit it.

Look suitably contrite about the screw up.

May Save You

This may still not save you, but it will give you a far better chance of getting that contract renewal than if you have let them find out it was your fault by themselves.

In that situation, you really would be toast!

Pluck up your courage and get to it now, before the ‘root cause team‘ manage to finger you and your screw up.

Good luck, and let me know how you got on.

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