4 Steps to Reduce Employees’ Mistakes

by Amy Beth Miller on November 18, 2013
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It’s exasperating when the employees you carefully hired for their excellent skills and positive attitude make dumb mistakes. But yelling at them won’t fix the problem.

Here are four actions that will:

1. Explain the consequences. Describe why the “little” mistake is a big deal for your customers and your business. Discuss the ripple effect that an error can have. For example, add up the lifetime value lost from one dissatisfied customer or the cost of fixing avoidable mistakes. (More than a third of workers in a Salary.com survey say they waste time having to fix other people’s errors.)

Even a misplaced decimal point or an extra comma can cost a business millions of dollars. Remind employees how their errors can affect their careers, from losing a monthly performance bonus to doing long-term damage to their professional reputations.

2. Find the root cause of a mistake. Toyota developed a popular method for identifying the source of problems by asking “Why?” five times. Its five whys reveal that fixing the immediate cause of a problem doesn’t resolve its underlying issues.

For example, let’s say a data clerk enters the wrong order number. That could be the result of a larger issue that caused said clerk to be swamped with work, such as a delay from another department. That, in turn, was perhaps caused by something else. Address the true source of a problem, not its symptoms.

3. Involve employees in seeking solutions. Focus employees on learning from a mistake and developing a plan to prevent it from happening again. When employees face blame and shame after committing an error, they may try to hide future mistakes from you, which can allow minor issues to snowball into major problems.

Instead, train your employees to become problem-solvers and not to rely on you to fix things. When employees tell you about a mistake, they should also say, “Here’s what I’ve done” or “Here’s what we could do” to resolve any issues and prevent the same issues from recurring. Encourage team members to share their best practices, too. Ask the employee who doesn’t make mistakes, “What steps do you take?”

4. Create procedures and checklists. Develop tools that safeguard against mistakes. From airplanes to operating rooms, professionals rely on checklists to ensure they never miss a critical step in a process. So, log all of the steps your team members should take and give them a checklist to follow.

You can’t — and shouldn’t — avoid every employee error. A business that doesn’t make any mistakes isn’t taking risks and trying new things. But if you eliminate avoidable snafus and silly errors by improving procedures, you will have the opportunity to make the types of mistakes that lead to innovation.

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