Several years ago my wife and I went through a breakfast phase – a phase where she sometimes wanted a fresh doughnut with her morning coffee. It did not happen every day, but when it did, the job of order fulfillment went to me. She, it turns out, is an "idea person".

On the particular morning about which I write I left the house about 6:30AM and drove 10 minutes to the grocery store that was the standard purveyor of the aforementioned doughnuts. On a normal day, I would sleepily shuffle to the self serve display case, grab a tissue paper, gently select two, and only two, chocolate frosted cake doughnuts, bag them, slink through the checkout line and drive home to coffee that blessedly awaited me.

This, as I was soon to learn, was no normal day.

As I dragged myself up to the display case, my pre- caffeinated brain began to realize something was wrong – tragically wrong. The case it seemed , was empty. No doughnuts. Not a crumb. How could this be? Am I in the wrong spot? Is there a police convention in town?

As the gravity of the situation slowly unfolded before me, I became aware of an inordinate level of activity behind the vacant and pitifully empty case. As I raised my head, I realized there were many people, more than I had ever seen in the stores bakery, frantically moving about. They were running and speaking loudly, carrying boxes, sorting stock and rolling bakery racks loaded with – wait for it – doughnuts. There they were, pristinely layered on tray after tray, seemingly calm and patient in a sea of sweat and frustration, as stressed and haggard workers attempted to offload them for their final destination.

It was at this point that a young woman, closest to the first rack of doughnuts, noticed me. I was staring foggy eyed at the doughnuts, obvious confusion on my face, probably drooling on myself, when she lifted her hands and blurted out “I am really sorry! It's all my fault!” And as she turned to look at the scene of devastation before her, she shook her head and added, “It's my first day on doughnuts!”

She asked what I wanted, and bagged two, and only two, chocolate frosted cake doughnuts (in case my wife is reading this I never bought three and wolfed one down on the ride home). She handed them to me over the counter and apologized again, which was really not necessary, as the entire delay had probably been under 30 seconds. Having successfully attained my quarry, I paid for my doughnuts and headed for the car.

I must admit, I had trouble driving home. I was laughing so hard I could not see, and almost drove off the road more than once. I was thinking about what she had said, the frustration in her voice, and could not help but wonder what it would be like, to get that big promotion, to be working your “first day on doughnuts”, and have the wheels come completely off the bakery truck. I truly felt for her, but it WAS damn funny all the same.

As I look back on that event, I realize she provided a tremendous example of what can go wrong on a job, how we should respond, and how we can make things right, when they do.

  1. She didn't hide from the issue. She recognized and acknowledged the problem.
  2. She took ownership. “It's all my fault” pretty quickly sums that up.
  3. She adapted, and ultimately provided excellent customer service. It didn't matter what had gone wrong, she took the time to make sure the customer got what they wanted. She made lemonade with the lemons she'd been dealt.

And while we (well, I, anyway) find humor in the concept of the “first day on doughnuts”, the fact remains that her stress, her concerns, her desire to perform well, were real, and equal in relation to anything we might experience in our own positions. Doing a job well was no less important to her than it is to most of us. The function and scope might be different, but the principal is exactly the same.

So we can learn something from our budding baker. Things will go wrong. We can't avoid it. What we must remember is it is not what goes wrong, but rather how we deal with it, on which we will ultimately be judged. Whether you are in sales, claims, underwriting, administration, human resources or general risk management – it doesn't matter. If it is your first day, or you are in your 25th year on doughnuts, what does matter is how you conduct yourself, how you respond, when the dough hits the fan, and your bakery crashes and burns.

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