Empowering people to avoid costly mistakes
In the business world everyone relies on others to get things done. Everyone has a job to do, a role to play and a contribution to make to keep things moving forward. Everything runs on the teamwork of tens and hundreds, if not thousands of individuals. And a lot of this teamwork relies on the ability of each individual in the team to perform their job well and discharge their duties diligently. And when that doesn’t happen, many things can go wrong, sometime on astronomical scale.
In 2018 Samsung Securities, a South Korean financial branch under the larger Samsung umbrella, under company stock-ownership scheme issued almost three billion shares by mistake into its employee accounts worth $105 Billion — more than 30 times the number of Samsung’s existing shares at the time. The dividend was supposed to be 1,000 won ($0.84) per share. But the employee mistook the form of measurement, confusing won and shares. The error caused Samsung Securities to issue a dividend that was 1,000 times the value of each share held by the group of employees. While the company blocked employees from selling their newly acquired shares 37 minutes later, the damage had already been done. Several staff members sold close to $187 million worth of shares within the half hour.
As humans we all make mistakes, we forget things, we confuse priorities, we get tired, and we feel lazy sometimes. These traits are what make us humans. Add the complexity of balancing our personal lives with work life into the mix and things gets even more complicated. This brings unpredictability and inconsistency to things we do. Therefore, we cannot be fully left to do our jobs and expect everything to go right all the time. There can be slip ups here and there and some of these can prove to be costly to the business we render our services to.
Discount clothing site 6pm once capped every item in its online store at $49.95 by mistake. The retailer carries a number of luxury brands that reach into the thousands of dollars. Many customers managed to jump in on the offer and ordered products at massive discounts. 6pm ended up honoring the sales, which occurred within a six-hour time frame, costing parent company Zappos more than $1.6 million.
The whole idea behind the system of supervision and having multiple people to verify information being processed, as well as the system of hierarchy must have all originated from fact that people can’t be left completely to their own methods to deliver a common objective. But the idea of supervision on its own cannot be efficient in all situations, in fact excessive supervision can have adverse effects in many cases.
So how can we reduce or eliminate errors which can have far reaching consequences, and how can we better prepare our team to deliver their responsibilities in the most efficient manner?
Focusing on people
Humans are complicated beings. No two humans are the same, everyone brings their own uniqueness to this world. Hence, they behave differently when approaching the same problem. Their priorities can be completely different from each other, their approach to work can be different, the way they react to pressure can be different, the pace at which they work can be different, the way they interpret instructions can be different, and their understanding of responsibilities can be different. Getting them all to work together successfully to deliver what needs to be delivered is only possible by creating the right environment for them thrive. This is where company culture comes into play.
Creating a culture where people are made to feel safe, where they are encouraged, where they don’t feel overworked or exhausted, where they can balance their work and personal life, where they feel proud to be part of a bigger cause, where their contributions are recognized, and where they can be their best selves is extremely important to help eliminate workplace mistakes or errors. An organization which provides such an atmosphere serves like an amazing service station for cars where they constantly keep them in their best condition to perform to its full potential.
What we communicate is critical for the outcome we expect from it. Very often failures or errors occur from communication breakdown. Perceiving instructions wrongly, wrong interpretation of policies, confusing priorities, and unclear objectives are all a recipe for disaster.
In April 2018, two men went to a Philadelphia Starbucks to meet a friend. They sat at a table waiting to order and asked to use the restroom. The result? The manager on duty called the police and the two African American men were—wrongfully—arrested for trespassing.
The video of the arrest went viral and by the next day, #boycottStarbucks was trending on social media. What might have started as a store manager attempting to follow a company policy turned into a racially biased encounter that even the Starbucks CEO called a “reprehensible outcome.”
It’s important to ensure that there is a healthy dose of communication which is not confusing or overwhelming, is consistent, and is clearly articulated. Communication of tasks, objectives, values, policies, vision etc… have to be carried out in the most efficient and effective way with a feedback loop to ensure it is well received, perceived and understood in the way in which it was intended.
Learning from mistakes to prevent it from re-occurring
Mistakes are a vital part of learning; No matter what we do or the precaution we take, errors are bound to happen. We can limit the errors and reduce its impact, but eliminating it completely is nearly impossible. However, we can prevent the same thing from happening again through a proper evaluation of the circumstances which lead to those errors thereby identifying the problematic areas and then putting place well communicated, preventive measures to avoid it from repeating again.
Google, one of the most successful companies out there tackles this through a 3-step postmortem process.
- Identify and grade the most important problems – Not all problems are worth focusing on, work on the most important ones.
- Create a record – What went well, what didn’t go well, and what can be differently.
- Promote growth and not blame – Keep the blame game at bay and focus on improvement and learning.
Well defined processes
Processes can sometimes feel very repetitive and mechanical, but they help a great deal to eliminate errors and omissions. Having a process around the areas within business which are prone to mistakes can help reduce a lot of exceptional costs and improve the quality of output.
Business processes are a series of steps that are laid out to be followed to get to certain outcomes which can be to produce a product, service, or deliver a task. The biggest benefit is that they help to stop mistakes and create a documented list of best practices.
A process is not only helpful for a complex manufacturing operation but can also be used in bringing a discipline to how we manage daily activities or tasks which are usually not well organized. For example, having a daily direction setting meeting with the team where the key objectives of the day are reviewed, the progress of previous days tasks are evaluated, and prioritization is agreed upon helps the team to a great deal to focus on delivering what they need to deliver. This task can be turned into a daily process with a structured approach so as to bring the best out of people by ensuring better productivity and lesser chances of errors and omissions.
If mistakes never existed, we would not have had the pleasure of having chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, the pacemaker, Penicillin, Microwave ovens, and fireworks. All of these were created by mistake. But we need to create an environment to learn from them, avoid repeating them, and reduce their occurrence to avoid them from spiraling out of control and start hurting the organizations both financially and otherwise.