Root analysis for someone who makes repeated mistakes

One question that I’ve struggled with over the years…and still struggle with…is how to properly address the problem of an employee who makes the same mistake over and over. Sure, in the magical fairy tale land of ISO9001:2000, it’s easy to blame it on “insufficient training” and be done with it. But there are times when you can “train” someone until you’re blue in the face and it doesn’t make any difference. The person may appear to be competent and seems to understand your words. And for a day or two after training everything is OK. But then the same problem pops up.

Cultural differences between management and employees complicates the situation. I, being your typical college-educated white male, have a hard time understanding the motivation…or lack of it…among members of the Hispanic community that pervade workplaces here in Southern California. You can repeatedly ask an employee to do something, or not do something, and the employee will repeatedly tell you “OK, I understand”. Then the next day the same problem occurs. I just want to tear my hair out sometimes, but that obviously is not the solution.

I do believe that disciplinary measures are an effective last resort to resolving chronic misbehavior. This is assuming that top company management goes along with your assessment. If not, well then you may be screwed in your attempt to address a Corrective Action Request.

If there is an employee who appears competent, but continually repeats the same mistake, you might want to look at other factors.

There might be a medical condition, which you can’t really ask about, and most people won’t readily tell you about even if you do ask. Does the employee have dyslexia or another learning disability? This is a tough area to deal with, due to the aforementioned privacy issues. But if you suspect there may be medical factors to blame, you’ll either have to deal with it or move the employee to another area, if that’s an option.

There might be some other factor other than general employee disinterest. Does the mistake always happen at the same time? On the same day? Are there any other events that occur at that time? Does the mistake happen at the same time the cute UPS delivery lady arrives? You might look at a bigger picture of events surrounding the mistake to see if other factors are at work here, and take appropriate action.

Later we will discuss other possible ways to address repeat mistake makers.

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3 Responses to “Root analysis for someone who makes repeated mistakes”

  1. Bob says:

    Have you tried beatings?
    Or is it a union environment?

    Seriously, no progress is made without pain.

    The repeat offender has to feel the pain of making the same mistake over and over again, just like you do when he/she screws up.

    Now I am assuming they have the proper training, tools and work environment. Big assumption I know.

    QualityIsBusiness.com

  2. Bill says:

    I usually find when you have an employee that doesn’t improve and has the talent to do good work it is a management fault. In these cases, the manager gives the employee great performance reviews tied to great raises and bonuses. How can the employee know that the manager is serious about the poor work when no matter how poorly they perform, review, raises, and bonuses will be good? I’ve seen all too often employees that need improvement get great performance ratings at end of year as if there is no improvement required in their work.

    As for outside influences, these are all relevant and possible contributors, but ultimately, the employee needs to rise above it and still perform. If the company can offer assistance, they should, but the employee is still expected to perform, and they need to be told that.

  3. Brian says:

    Are we not missing an important element here, namely competence assessment? Training is only one part of the pie. Assessing worker competency is the only way to be reasonably sure that they understand the training and are able to perform the task well.

    Competency assessment can be performed by:
    – direct observation, using a checklist of expected key actions
    – a written test
    – an oral test
    all documented of course. Having a worker state that they “understand” instructions or training has no value. Employees must be tested, not only as new trainees but also at regular intervals thereafter if working on high risk (quality) processes. Even experienced workers can develop bad habits or take shortcuts etc.

    I would like to say that competency assesment is easy to do but in a complex environment, it is a major challenge to get it right, as trying to cover all employees doing all “risky” jobs is an endless task.

    The “no blame” system of CA/PA process improvement certainly can reap benefits but there is also the “just” system that states that repeat offenders must be dealt with and if unable to prove their competence, should be moved elsewhere.

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