How many mistakes did you and your team make yesterday? I am not talking about massive mistakes which sink ships or stop production, but small mistakes; such as not filling a form in correctly, missing a step in a process, pushing a door when you should pull. We all make mistakes every day, not on purpose but because we are human.

If we are lucky, these mistakes just cost us a bit of time or reduce customer service by such as small amount nobody notices. However, sometimes they lead to disasters, health and safety issues and massively costly outcomes.

As leaders and managers our job is to eliminate as many mistakes as possible. So, we try to motivate our staff, we train them, we measure performance but most mistakes are just accepted. We tell ourselves that we all make mistakes and it won’t happen again, or we take drastic action and fire or discipline the individual. The question we should ask ourselves is “why do mistakes happen and are we doing enough to stop them?”.

If we stopped hundreds of small mistakes in our business, we could stop accidents, improve customer service, reduce costs and improve people’s lives. But how do we do it? How can we ensure that all the fields in a form are always filled in properly, that every check is completed, that customers are not forgotten about? The short answer is to identify and investigate the real root cause then eliminate even the smallest mistakes so that it can’t happen again. Every mistake costs time, money and puts people at risk. Some mistakes will cost us seconds, others minutes but many cost us hours and hours each day.

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As a simple exercise, spend a day writing down all the mistakes you make; from not putting enough water in a kettle, missing a meeting, to calculating something wrong. Just keep a simple log and you will be horrified by how many mistakes you make. Not on purpose, just mistakes. As an example, please look at just some of the mistakes I made yesterday.

Mistake Subsequent actions Cost / Waste
Invoice sent out without a PO Had to re-issue PO Loss of cash as PO payment was delayed.  Time spent rising the new PO.  Looked incompetent to client (reputation cost)
Wrote down a phone number wrong Had to search online for the correct number Wasted time of the first call to a wrong number. Spent 10 mins looking for the correct number
Dropped litter on the floor as missed the bin opening Had to bend down and put in the bin Wasted time picking it up and placing in the bin
Didn’t put enough water in the kettle Had to add more water and re-boil Time for boiling second time and cost of electric.  Person had to wait longer for their coffee
Was 5 minutes late for a zoom call 5 people wasted 5 minutes waiting on me. I was stressed and not prepared, more wasted time
Couldn’t find a presentation on my computer Searched, opened up other presentations 15 minutes wasted looking for a simple presentation
Completed an application form wrongly It was sent back and I had to refile 2 weeks missed opportunities as well as time to refile the form

For each example, think about what you had to do to rectify the mistake, and what it cost you or your business in time and money.

As you will see from my list, these are not items we would report as mistakes, but they add up to lots of time and money each day. Imagine if we had every employee identifying mistakes and being able to rectify them.

If you are on the front line – taking orders, making products, assisting customers, ordering products, you could easily forget to connect parts properly, miss out a step in a process, put the wrong numbers in an order, miss fields in a form. These start to have major implications as mistakes. We need to understand the real root causes of these mistakes. It’s not acceptable to just say they had a bad day, they lost concentration, they were not motivated, they didn’t follow the procedure. We nee to understand why.

Management need to dig deeper. Why were they not motivated? How could they miss a step? Why has their performance dipped? What distracted them? What made it possible for the mistake to even happen in the first place?

We need leaders and managers, in fact all staff, to understand that they will make mistakes, but that we can do something about it. It does of course take more than just engaging your staff. You need experts who can truly investigate the reasons behind the mistakes. It could be the lighting, the time of day, the stress on an individual, the tools used or the way they are managed. Somebody needs to start with your larger, more common mistakes, investigate them fully and then eliminate them.

Traditionally in a problem solving, business improvement Lean Six Sigma world, we would analyse a problem and try to identify root causes. The issue many problem solvers encounter is that when conducting root cause analysis, they come to the conclusion that it was human error. The person just made a mistake. Typically, we then suggest the person undertakes some training, we monitor them a bit closer and hope for the best. This is of course not the answer. There is always a reason for a mistake.

We need to dig further and find the real root causes and eliminate and prevent them from happening again. Training a few individuals in your organisation to do this will pay massive dividends,  teach them how to interview, how to investigate and how to get to the cause.

100% Effective have developed a training course to provide the skills needed to conduct investigations and implement solutions. Anyone with a business improvement, quality improvement or management background will discover new ways to look at mistakes and errors and make a massive difference to their business.

Start thinking about errors and mistakes today.

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