How to Make Errors Self-Correcting
Wouldn’t it be great if the errors and mistakes we make in our businesses would just self-correct? Actually, there are some events that happen in businesses and other areas of life that are so monumental or costly, that they teach us—often too late—not to make certain mistakes again.
That seems to be the case when learning to use firearms—even experts who teach gun handling and safety say that self-correcting errors often happen to them.
Recently, I, my wife and son attended a two-day course on how to improve our knowledge of the use and care of handguns. Our trainer—who also trains police and even SWAT teams in our area—is really knowledgeable about weapons of all types, and was very thorough in training us.
“If you follow my instructions and learn the step-by-step process I will demonstrate,” he said, “you won’t get hurt. And by the end of the course, you will be amazed at your proficiency in handling and firing a high-powered handgun.”
He was right about that, at least in the case of my wife, Susan! By the time the course was completed, she was firing a 9-mm, semi-automatic pistol with both her right and left hands—and with surprising accuracy. She had also learned to clear a jammed gun and change out her magazines in a matter of seconds. I KNEW I liked this girl!
In my case, however, I had to experience one of those “self-correcting errors” our trainer described, as did others in the class. Our trainer demonstrated how to hold the gun correctly, but I kept going back to the way I had taught myself years ago. I wasn’t really trying to be Rambo—just one of those “old dogs, new tricks” moments, I suspect.
So, as I fired more than a hundred rounds, one of the fingers on my left hand took a beating whenever the slide on the gun recoiled. It finally dawned on me that, if I didn’t follow the step-by-step process the trainer had shown me, I was going to have a really bruised finger. I finally moved my finger to the correct position, and the rest of the day went smoothly.
PAIN can be—should be—a good reason to self-correct when what you’re doing isn’t working out well. Take, for example, the following true story:
Our trainer told us about an incident that had happened to another very experienced instructor while he was teaching firearm safety to a group of middle school students.
At the very moment he said to the class, “I’m the only one here who is experienced enough to do what I’m about to show you,” he tried to whip out his loaded gun from a side holster and mistakenly shot himself through the leg. Our trainer said, “Now, THAT is what we call a self-correcting error, and you can bet that instructor will NEVER make that mistake again!”
Again, wouldn’t it be nice if, at your company, errors and mistakes would just correct themselves?
Unfortunately, most of us have to learn through experimentation and PAIN not to repeat certain actions—like driving too fast on ice, picking up a hot poker, walking a tightrope without a net…or running a business without quality-control systems. Hopefully, the resulting experience is self-correcting!
I had never seen errors self correct in my own company, prior to using quality-control systems under constant vigilance.
OK, so why are mistakes in business NOT self-correcting errors? Fact is, many of those who make the mistakes feel NO PAIN!
In many businesses, workers continue to get paid and to enjoy paid vacations and other benefits whether they make mistakes or not. They may even get paid overtime for some RUSH rework, in order to correct an error they made.
I’m not saying people don’t care or don’t feel bad when errors happen, but most workers don’t bear the real consequences of their errors. When mistakes are made, an owner feels the pain right in the wallet. And owners are the ones most likely to experience a customer’s wrath over an error.
OK, so what do you do with this information?
If you are a business owner, I suggest you implement a system in which employees who caused/contributed to an error sign a document (i.e., a Preventative Action Request) describing the error, what happened, and the root cause of the problem, so it can be avoided in the future. Then, on the same document, include a description of which quality-control or service-control system was improved or implemented to ensure that error wouldn’t happen again.
A self-correcting error, as I see it, is an occurrence that renders a worker, a business owner or anyone instantly TEACHABLE not to make that self-defeating mistake in the future and finds a solution that will correct such errors for all time.
Did I mention? Great systems work!
Philip Beyer, founder/president of Ebiz Products LLC and founder of Beyer Printing Inc. in Nashville Tenn., is a chronic entrepreneur, business systems analyst and consultant. Author of "System Busters: How to Stop Them in Your Business" and recipient of an InterTech Technology Award for the design and development of System100 business process management software. Beyer speaks to business owners across the country on how to bring lean, sustainable order to their businesses. Contact him at (615) 425-2652.