Things go wrong in organisations for a number of reasons: people might do less than they are capable of, or misuse their resources, or choose an inappropriate time or place to act… We misread situations; we take the wrong actions; we’re often out of tune and out of step. But things could be worse: what if our errors were tabulated and published every weekend like those of a football team? You can reduce the number of mistakes in your organisation by considering this advice…

Learn from your mistakes.

1. Learn from your previous mistakes.

Mistakes will happen. Murphy had it right when he said that if anything can go wrong, it will. The worst mistake is to make the same mistake more than once. Learn to analyse what goes wrong, make notes on what to do and what not to do next time – and make sure you get it right in future.

2. Remember the basics of mistake minimization.

Think ahead:

  • Planning is the key to minimizing mistakes. Think ahead, anticipate all eventualities, and make contingency plans to cover yourself. This might not make your initiative mistake-free, but at least you will be better prepared to handle any obstacles that arise.

Don’t be over-confident:

  • Many managers are so certain that everything is OK that they make no attempt to foresee any problems or be prepared for the unexpected. You certainly need confidence – but don’t let it blind you or your staff.

Guard against carelessness:

  • A simple act of carelessness, often the result of over-confidence, pressure, or the belief that a task is easier than we think, can destroy a project and damage a reputation. Check every fact and figure in every important report, letter, or memo – and get someone else to check as well.

Tolerate no laziness:

  • According to Proverbs, ‘Hard work means prosperity; only a fool idles his time away’ – basic advice for today’s manager. Tolerate no fools, especially lazy fools, for they could cost your organisation time and money. All companies have lazy people. A few of them are lazy by nature. On the other hand, the manager may well be at fault, for many lazy employees are viewed as ‘lazy’ simply because they have been given inadequate leadership, insufficient supervision, or a poorly-defined role. Provided you have done your job, and if one of your staff is indeed indolent, then take action. Laziness cannot be tolerated.

Take a stand against incompetence:

  • It is said in sporting circles that dropped catches lose matches. A dropped catch can be the sign of poor skill development in the athlete, and under-developed skills in the workplace can similarly lead to disaster. But incompetency can be minimized if you take steps to refine employee selection processes, monitor and improve performance standards, and implement training and coaching aimed at correcting identified weaknesses in staff competencies.

Be disciplined when delegating to others:

  • A poorly delegated job can have a disastrous outcome, so ensure you always select the right person for the task, conduct a thorough briefing, train as required, hand over authority, and monitor appropriately.

Supervise, supervise, supervise:

  • Orders or instructions without follow-up or supervision court mistakes, even disaster. You can’t be expected to check every detail of your employees’ work personally, but supervisors and section heads can, and report progress to you.

3. Consider drafting a risk-management plan.

Since planning is a management priority, a risk-management plan will prove to be a valuable tool for minim- ising major mistakes. Corporate risk management applies commonsense to identifying, evaluating, measuring, and treating the broad range of risks confronting an organisation – especially its people, its assets, its profits, and its reputation. The risk management process consists of:

  • identifying and evaluating the risk
  • controlling that risk
  • financing the process
  • delegating responsibilities
  • measuring results or benefits.

A typical risk-management plan may contain the following:

  • An overview, consisting of scope, objectives, evaluation criteria, and asset description
  • Risk identification and analysis
  • Risk assessment – risks to be accepted; unacceptable risks
  • Risk handling measures
  • List actions for reducing, avoiding, or transferring identified risks
  • Assign responsibilities for actions needed
  • Prepare a risk action timeline
  • A schedule for ongoing risk review and management.

Use of ISO certification and total quality management procedures will help put in place non-conformance reporting and preventative actions to eliminate, or significantly reduce, the chances of a problem recurring.

4. Finally, don’t forget what Murphy said…

Murphy regaled us with several irrefutable laws of the universe (and of management) and we would do well not to forget his timely advice:

  • If anything can go wrong, it will.
  • Nothing is as easy as it first looks.
  • If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.
  • Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
  • Whenever you set out to do something, invariably something else will need to be done first.
  • It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
  • Anytime things appear to be going better, you will have overlooked something.
  • If you do everything right, nobody will notice. If you do something wrong, everyone will notice.

It’s a pity Murphy is so often right. You’ll need to do your best to prove him wrong.

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