Someone made a mistake at work today. It wasn’t too bad! It only led to one hour rework of a document that needed to be sent today to one of the smaller clients of the business. No- one was hurt, no-one was affected and once it had been discussed the person who made that mistake is unlikely to do it again. So that’s alright then!
I don’t even know what happened or what the outcome was, but if someone right now asks me whether that mistake could have been prevented, my answer will be yes! It will always be ‘yes’. And I reiterate I don’t know what happened. But the answer would be yes.
How do I know that? Because that mistake could have been prevented. From a personal point of view it’s alright then. I don’t know what the mistake was, but it could have been prevented, and if it had been it would have reduced the extra costs to the organisation. But it only cost an hour of rework so in reality it’s not worth worrying about, because there are more important things to be getting on with that will earn much more.
From a business point of view it is an indicator that the business might not be as efficient or as effective as it could be; the company will not be making as much money as it could do. Even if someone argues that the revenue is the same as it would have been, it will take longer to achieve that same figure. So what can be done about the single mistake that doesn’t appear to be critical, but might be symptomatic of greater problems?
Let’s have another look. Imagine it was a mistake that required a whole day of rework to make it good. Imagine if it was a mistake that was in a document destined for the client who generated the greatest revenue. Imagine if it was perceived by the senior management ‘to matter’! Could this more serious mistake have been prevented. Of course the answer again is yes. And which is the more important to fix? Many organisations will spend time fixing the mistake that will cost them the most and that is viewed, by the seniors, as the more important one. However it could be that if the small uninteresting mistake had been prevented, the more critical, and perceived as more important one, might never have happened.
Who should we ask about whether it was a preventable mistake, and if so then how can we make sure it doesn’t happen again? I would suggest that we ask the person who does that job the most often and the person who just made the mistake and the person who is responsible for that task. Just for starters. They will know why the mistake occurred, and just as certainly they will know how best to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Now it’s up to the seniors to listen. That might be a difficult thing for them to do. It’s so much easier and far less painful to not change things; to leave things as they are once that mistake was rectified. They have been used to the usual way of doing it and, this is no surprise, are resistant to change.