Eldar Itlyashev, Executive VP and COO, Kavkaz Express, LLC.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” This quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein. Mistakes in life, business and relationships are inevitable. We are all human – they happen.
But what we do with these mistakes can be the difference between thriving and failing – and we know that for sure. So, how do we thrive on our mistakes?
Types of errors
Let’s look at the errors first. I have identified four types of human error. Understanding each type can make it easier to avoid the same mistakes in the future.
• Slip-based: These are errors associated with everyday, familiar tasks that require little conscious thought. Think, for example, of mixing up documents or sending an e-mail to the wrong person.
• Decay-based: This means forgetting to do things – skipping a step in a process. Lapses are common in busy, stressful environments.
• Rule-based: These mistakes include making the wrong decision and errors of judgement.
• Knowledge based: These mistakes stem from inexperience and a lack of knowledge. Decisions are not made based on facts.
When mistakes are made, it’s critical to take the time to understand what happened and why. If we don’t analyze the ‘what’ and ‘why’, we constantly risk making the same mistake.
However, analysis is only half the battle. Once the situation is understood, it is important to document and record it. This way we can turn a mistake into a learning opportunity, both for your current and future organizations.
Recorded processes and historical data
“The devil is in the details” is an appropriate idiom and good advice for business leaders to follow when documenting and recording errors. If you think some mistakes are just too obvious to record, think again. It can be a big reason why the same mistakes are repeated.
These records are called many things: guiding principles, rules, policies and procedures, or standard operating procedures (SOP). What matters is that your company has an official repository of how things are done, what is expected, and the right steps to take.
Overtaking is always difficult, as is learning fast. As your business grows, everything by definition becomes more complex – from onboarding new employees and determining the right way to answer the phone to resolving workplace conflicts, companies can leave nothing to chance. Establishing and updating your policies and procedures early on often becomes an invaluable tool to help manage the complexities of growth.
The line between what is a policy and what is a procedure can sometimes be fuzzy, but thinking about it this way can help:
Policy: These are usually larger, overarching principles of your organization, and they are often more strategically focused. In many cases, they can help you avoid rule-based errors.
Procedures: These are usually more prescriptive, step-by-step actions to take to help avoid mistakes, mistakes, and knowledge-based errors.
By having this library you can ensure that new employees understand the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ from the start. Establishing policies and procedures can also help solve the problem of departing employees taking what they learn and leaving a void.
Think of policies and procedures as the company’s intellectual assets: a strategic mechanism that transfers all this valuable information and knowledge. Breaking down silos and stimulating cross-functional interaction is the goal of every successful company. But when more people are involved, it can also be difficult to isolate mistakes or identify who made a mistake.
Strict adherence to policies and procedures can help you get to the root of where the problem occurred as all procedures and actions become observable. That is why employees have a step-by-step plan and best practices to prevent mistakes.
Keeping up with an evolving world
The world is constantly changing, competition is changing, consumer tastes are changing – and so are businesses. This means that policies and procedures must be constantly updated and developed. Continuous learning is the hallmark of large companies. Policies and procedures were never intended to be static documents. What worked yesterday may be a big mistake tomorrow.
Keeping policies and procedures up to date must be accompanied by ongoing training. This works on two fronts: 1) Your staff has the latest and greatest knowledge; and 2) they will be confident that they know what is expected and what steps and tools are needed to deliver the results.
As mentioned earlier, mistakes are an inevitable part of life. And even the most elaborate plans and most polished policies and procedures cannot guarantee that mistakes will not be made. But they can help you get ahead of the curve and ensure that the chances of them happening again and again are greatly reduced.
On the other hand, great learning can be done. I have found that the status quo in business is a death sentence. Standing still never works, so change and mistakes are necessary. Let’s just make sure we make the right change and new mistakes.