In my career in sales, I have been fortunate enough to rise to a level where I am responsible for managing people.
What I’ve found is managing people is hard.
People come with baggage and a background that isn’t mine.
With no prior formal management training, I’ve read a bunch, have been exposed to a few great managers, and have been able to distill some of the excellent ways great managers motivate their team.
To me, the critical management mindset is two-fold; humans are fallible, and the past is immutable.
With this mindset, building a management system that ensures everyone is appreciated and rewarded equally is pretty straight forward.
While it seems simple on the surface, the implementation is where the complexity comes. So I’m going to try to break it down a bit more.
“To err is human.” -Alexander Pope
Human Error Isn’t Going Away
There are many expressions regarding human error out there such as the average human making 32 mistakes a day, or the average business person making 27 choices daily where at least eight are wrong. But to drive this point home I needed something more data driven.
In David Smith’s textbook Reliability, Maintainability and Risk (2011), the human error rate is one error in a thousand for a simple routine task and that increases to one mistake in ten for a complicated, non-routine task.
So, if I am building a complicated revenue model with years of data, the project will be fraught with errors and require a ton of time checking every single aspect of the model numerous times to ensure I catch every error.
However, on the flip side, one error in a thousand for simple routine tasks? That seems nominal, right?
The issue is that routine simple tasks add-up quickly. Think of all the everyday tasks you do in a day before you get out of the house. I can easily hit at least two thousand by 9am.
The take home message is – people make mistakes all the time and often don’t even notice.
In a business setting, when we catch a mistake, it is time to take a pause and understand why the mistake happened.
Was it a complicated task where the error rate is expected to be high, or was it a simple task where the error rate is expected to be low?
Also, what else is at play, are there distractions, are there other outstanding circumstances that are affecting the error rate?
The Past is Immutable
Once an error has happened, we have to deal with the consequences.
If a customer-facing employee makes an error, then tries to ignore it, or worse, cover it up, the consequences could be severe. With social media, mistakes can be broadcasted on a global scale, instantaneously.
Remember, the coverup is usually worse than the crime. The cover-up is how Watergate took down Nixon.
If we can’t make the error go away, then we have to deal with it directly.
Here’s error management in four steps:
- Identify the Error
The error is vital – the culprit is irrelevant.
Blamestorming will only result in a systemic distrust of specific individuals, while concurrently not moving the problem down a resolution path.
Consider this, a prospect emails a complaint that they are getting bombarded with emails and calls from a sales rep.
Sure you can jump into the CRM and find out who the culprit was, however, that is an internal process, and every second the prospect sits without a response, they come closer to posting a nasty tweet or worse.
- Deal with the Problem ASAP
Find a manager or even another rep and have them reach out directly, apologize, and send a five dollar coffee card.
Simply put – deal with it.
A general rule of thumb, whoever caught the error, fix it and let people know.
“Hey dude, I got your back” is a lot more pleasant and builds esprit de corps far better than, “wow you blew it- again buster!”
Initial fire dealt with, time to find out how the match got ignited.
- Identify the Root Cause
Identifying the source of errors is where management earns their keep.
In this scenario, was the cadence being followed? Does the cadence need to change, does additional training need to be implemented, or was that prospect particularly sensitive?
In any case, this is an excellent topic to bring up with the entire team and discuss what went wrong and what to do moving forward.
- Codify the Error
Here is the key – be sure to list the errors that happen over time and bring them up in your regularly scheduled meetings.
Having an impromptu meeting for every error does three things.
- First, when the meeting is called, employees will look to finger point and see who is responsible for the current waste of time.
- Second, if an error happens, and a meeting does not occur, it will be considered a minor error, and the same mistake will likely happen again.
- Third, more meetings lead to meeting fatigue. Time is the one commodity nobody can make more of, therefore, meetings should be meaningful.
Having a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss workflows, errors, playbooks etc…ensures errors, omissions, and issues great and small, will be brought up to the broader audience, not just those involved, and dealt with in a teachable environment. It also creates a culture of acceptance and learning.
Once dealt with, playbooks updated, training (if required) implemented, the only issues moving forward will be new errors.
How Boeing Significantly Reduced Error
In 1935, Boeing was trying to sell B-17 bombers to the US military.
They were notoriously difficult to fly and after a fatal crash, Boeing management published a pilot’s preflight checklist to reduce the error rate for complicated tasks, even if routine.
Now pilot checklists are commonplace in the aviation industry, and flying is the safest, most error-free way of travel.
What does this mean for business management?
Herein lies the core of building a successfully managed system and helping a team achieve its goals – provide direction, give a map to help them achieve their goal, and when people falter, use that misstep to tune the system.