Monique Yeager | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Monique Yeager

Background:  

Founded in 1995, Orlando-based Tijuana Flats is committed to providing guests with fresh Tex-Mex food and outstanding service in a friendly atmosphere. Tijuana Flats has 121 locations in six states and is growing at a rate of 14-18 locations per year.

The Mistake:

I didn't take responsibility for missing a deadline.

This happened to me years ago, in the early part of my career. I worked for a law firm, a very big law firm that had some former congressmen and pretty big muckety-mucks. I was in marketing and working on a proposal for a pretty big [request for proposal] for a job to be done at the county. I had to work with several attorneys, including a former congressman who was a pretty significant person at the time. He was the lead attorney on it.

I had worked tirelessly to get people to respond and get me [their contribution] on time. The due date came around and I took the proposal to our mail office and I asked them to have it couriered to the county by a specific time. So it was couriered over there, and the time stamp came back to me – at one minute past the due date.

The county threw my proposal out and disqualified the law firm from participating. And it was a huge deal. The former congressman that I was working with was really pissed and went to our managing partner. I got in a lot of trouble. And I remember saying, “You guys didn’t respond – what could I have done? I had it couriered over there, and it was supposed to be there on time.”

About three weeks later, when it was time for a raise, my raise was cut in half. And I went to the managing partner at the time and I said, [with] all the things I’ve done throughout the years, you’re going to cut my raise because of this one thing? And he said, “yes.”  And that’s when I made the decision that I was going to leave that law firm.

I’m still great friends with a lot of the lawyers at the law firm. And that particular managing partner at the time apologized to me years later. But in hindsight, I should have taken responsibility for the screw-up.

No matter how big or small something seems to you, it’s a bigger deal to the other person you’re doing it for.

The Lesson:

If I had taken responsibility, I would not have been as bitter. Because the fact is that it really was my responsibility to get it there on time. And whether it was one minute late or an hour late doesn’t really matter. It wasn’t there on time. And instead of taking full responsibility for that, I deflected. And made justifications for my actions – which, at the end of the day, nobody cares why something doesn’t get done. They just know it didn’t get done.

I should have done a lot of things: I should have communicated differently with the people I was working with. I should have given them appropriate timelines. I should have ridden them. Because again, they’re lawyers and they’re working on other things rather than a proposal. And when it looked like certain people weren’t being responsive, I should have pulled in [other people] to help me get them to respond. 

And it’s funny because one of my team members was just telling me, “You always tell us that, no matter how big or small something seems to you, it’s a bigger deal to the other person you’re doing it for.” Even if you’re a big pain in the ass to get it done, you need to be that pain in the ass and get it done.

Now I’m very cognizant when I’m talking to other colleagues. I’m very careful not to ever place blame [or] to justify my actions or make excuses for things. 

Something else that I learned is that everybody does make mistakes, and some are bigger and some are smaller. But none of them are ever usually intentional. And I’ve tried to remember that throughout my career.

Follow Tijuana Flats on Twitter at @TijuanaFlats.

Photo courtesy of Monique Yeager

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