Dealing With Errors

L. Douglas Mault

May 2007

Let’s look into the past and listen to Aristotle’s Prior Analytics, which defines a syllogism as "a discourse in which, certain things having been supposed, something different from the things supposed results of necessity because these things are so.”

Huh? Put another way, a syllogism is a logical argument in which one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises). Well, we’re going to add a second conclusion to our syllogism.

Premise: There is a cause for every error.

Premise: Analysis of errors can discover the cause(s).

Conclusion: We can either eliminate, minimize or reduce the effects of the cause(s) of the errors.

Conclusion: If we do this, there will be fewer errors.

But, how do errors arise? There are four key areas that can cause errors.

Haste often makes proper execution of the task at hand impossible. One cannot focus on the task while focusing on getting it done and on to something else.

Fatigue, whether mental or physical, exacts a toll and interferes with doing the job properly. It is one of the most signifi-cant causes of job-related injuries.

Boredom, a lack of interest/excitement, erodes one’s motivation and desire. Few people do well at tasks they find boring. This is why job switching and job enrichment are more accepted and necessary today.

Distractions, whether unnecessary or unexpected, destroy concentration. They often require a "recovery” period that is out of proportion to the import of the interruption.

The challenge, then, is to study and analyze your operations to discover the causes of errors. How to do so is beyond the scope of this article, but with a touch of common sense and a commitment to quality, you can do this.

Once you’ve found the causes, what do you do? Here are some suggestions:
• Provide positive feedback to employees to become more error aware.
• Apply discipline or punishment to repeat offenders.
• Offer incentives for error-free work; admission and correction of errors.
• Increase or improve training.
• Increase quality of employees through training or careful hiring.
• Improve error detection and analysis.
• Train, change, hire or dismiss supervisors as appropriate.
• Change methods, procedures, forms, etc.
• Improve quality of equipment or work environment.
• Change the system that causes or occasions errors.
• Use outside services or experts.
• Eliminate the operation.
• Transfer error prone individuals to less sensitive areas.
• Do not reward errors.
• Do not reward bad work with less work.
• Fire repeat offenders.

All of the above require time and effort. It is much easier to "bandage” the wound, slap on some chewing gum and baling wire, or just engage in wishful thinking. Doing so may seem expedient, but in the long run it can be dangerous, if not fatal, to an organization. It is the bounden duty of senior management to be ever vigilant and relentless in pursuit of and elimination of the causes of errors.

The great part of doing so is that the errors rarely recur. Once done, done forever.

About the Author
L. Douglas Mault is president of the Executive Advisory Institute, Yakima, Wash.