We’ve all heard about performance reviews and key performance indicators as tools for improving employee productivity and efficiency that help a business grow.
But here’s one that you probably haven’t tried – mostly because pointing out mistakes can come across as confrontational and confidence bashing – error reviews.
At the end of the day, to build a company that can grow from strength to strength and learn from its mistakes, means you can’t sweep foul-ups under the carpet.
The key to doing better work is to reflect on what went wrong. And here’s the part you want to hear:
Error reviews don’t need to be mediated or conducted by anyone else but the individual. This is a process of self-improvement through self-reflection.
Mess up, and even purposefully mess up
There is plenty of opportunity over the course of a year for employees and leaders to make mistakes.
And let’s say you’re perfect and don’t ever foul up, you may want to consider actually making a mistake or two on purpose. Why?
Because it does two things: It gives you the opportunity to identify sticking points in a system and learn from it, and it prepares you for damage control with potential future mess ups.
The act of reflecting on mistakes doesn’t involve beating yourself up or wallowing in the humiliation of it all, but means distancing yourself from the situation to size up what didn’t go according to plan, figuring out if the plan itself was the problem, finding out why things went wrong, and what could have been done differently.
What you may even find is that there are patterns to the mistakes. And here’s the good news, they will often fall into one of these categories and there are fixes for them:
Culprit 1: Carelessness and sloppiness. No one likes to think of themselves as possessing either of these characteristics as they sit squarely in the negative column of personality traits.
Yet business owners and employees often find themselves over-committed, over-scheduled and managing over-flowing emails and to-do lists. This can result in inadvertent sloppiness like forgetting a meeting, overlooking an action point, or not returning an important phone call.
While we cut ourselves slack saying “Bad form, but you’ve been very busy of late,” they look very bad to those on the receiving end of such behaviour and can suggest a lack of commitment to the task at hand – bad news for business.
And even if you can make amends for missing a phone call, a careless error can lead to massive disasters. Take the iPhone 4 for example – a brilliant piece of mobile tech.
But a careless mistake of placing the aerial in a spot that gets covered by the user’s thumb meant signal was cut off.
One of the simplest fixes to the problem of inadvertent sloppiness or carelessness is to reduce your commitment load.
Sounds easier said than done for most. If reducing your load isn’t an option, the next most effective solution is to block your time into segments. Allocate times in your day where you focus on one task at a time – distraction is instrumental in mess ups.
At the start of your day, write a to-do list in order of priority. Then segment your day into time blocks where you can work through each task listed. Reply to emails at a certain time. Take phone calls at a certain time. Work on your project at a certain time.
Culprit 2: Not playing to your strengths. While we’re always told to play to our strengths, we find ourselves constantly trying to improve our weak points, skills we haven’t mastered yet or tasks we’re not well suited to.
Textbooks on management suggest we delegate tasks we’re not good at to others, which is all fine and well if you have someone to delegate to in the first place, and they can do the job better than you.
Textbooks also recommend that if you’re selling a product or service that isn’t performing as well as other parts of the business, then it should be culled. Why spend time, money and resources bolstering an under-performing product when resources could be directed at improving an already successful product or service?
While you can improve your personal, employee and business weaknesses through training, development and additional resources, it’s important to know when to pull the plug.
Be cautious of trying to develop too many areas at once too. Remember the power of collaboration in compensating weaknesses.
Find someone, whether they’re an employee or a potential business partner who is very strong in your area of weakness and work together to complete a task or brainstorm a new product/service.
Culprit 3: Cracking under pressure. There are few people who truly cope well under pressure – think trauma surgeons, bomb squads and astronauts. For the rest of us – in business and individually – there’s understated pressure to get things done quicker, better and bigger.
As an example, no matter how much technology promises to make our lives easier and able to free up time for leisure, we find ourselves taking on more work in the space that technology has created.
As your own worst enemy, it’s important to understand where the pressure is coming from. Are you setting deliverable dates that are unrealistic? Are you expecting too much from yourself or your staff? Are you not collaborating as much as you can?
An important exercise to conduct is in understanding where the value is in your work. If you know what is most valuable and what isn’t, you will be able to spend more time on the top priorities and less time on the others – relieving at least some of the pressure.
So now you know the culprits, how do you get error reviewing?
Once you’ve identified patterns and decided which fix to implement to address them, make actions to make the change possible. Using “always” and “never” actions are also easier to implement and stick to than ones that allow for making excuses.
An example is: “I have a pattern of always responding to emails immediately. Because this makes my work time feel pressurised I tend to be abrupt in my replies and don’t foster relationships. To address this, I will never respond to emails unless it is in the dedicated time slot for responding to emails.”