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Why Employee Mistakes Are (Usually) Your Fault

Business Lessons

As a business owner, you have several responsibilities that sporadically pop up throughout your already busy schedule. The last thing you want to be doing is have to micromanage your shop.

This sense of control you want to maintain is most prone to the fact that you want jobs to go correctly, as planned. 

You find yourself overlooking prints, re-checking jobs, print locations, and print quality because you have lived through mistakes that have ruined jobs, hurt customer relationships and inevitably cost you money. 

Mistakes happen. You are not perfect and you have made mistakes. As an owner, you can be responsible for them and bounce back. But what about your employees? Knowing that they too can be prone to making costly mistakes, you might lash out or try to reprimand them for not taking the same precautions you might take. 

Let's first evaluate why mistakes happen. You can categorize mistakes a few ways:

First, mistakes happen because out of Ignorance or Ineptitude.

Ignorant mistakes are made because of a lack of knowledge. Your screen printer did not know that polyester required different curing times and temperatures over cotton. Or an employee burned a screen on the wrong mesh because they did not know any better. These are mistakes that are generally out of your employee's control because something has not been taught to them. They are not trying to make the mistake- they just happen. Often times these are forgivable because they can be sympathized with. 

Ineptitude happens when the knowledge or skill has been taught, but it is overlooked and not applied. For instance, if your screen printer knows that a 158 mesh has lower exposure time, and they forget to set the exposure unit to accommodate. It is a mistake that is often overlooked or because rules were not applied correctly. 

Let's generalize this one step further to better understand mistakes:

Mistakes happen because of the person or the system. 

In this case, mistakes happen because the employee has messed something up. They have done something incorrectly that was their decision. In the other sense, mistakes can be caused by a break in the system that the person was using. 

Let's look at proofing a job.  If the proofing system you were using was not set up properly and did not accurately reflect an approval from a customer, mistakes may occur. Based on a poorly built system, your employees were set up to fail. 

Now that we have seen different types of mistakes, it is important that you begin to categorize them when they happen and ask yourself what could have avoided it and what type of mistake was it. Did my employee blatantly ignore the rules, or were they placed in a system that allowed for mistakes to occur? 

"Well my employee should have just done their job better" is not an acceptable reason. The blame generally points to management, sometimes known as you. 

You need to build a system that has a series of checks and balances so that your employees can thrive within it. Expecting an employee to solely rely on recall is a high expectation to have, especially under stressful and busy conditions. 

You need to ask yourself what more can you do to make sure that mistakes do not happen in each situation, and implement a check and balance? Once that check is in place, you need to spend time teaching your employees on how to use the system. 

This is explained best in a book titled, The Checklist Manifesto, that explains that most mistakes happen because there is not a good system of checks in place. It uses examples in operating rooms and flight cockpits. It explains that there is a protocol for everything that happens with employees and that no matter what level or degree of expertise operators have, mistakes will happen. Therefore you need to be prepared for them. 

As a business owner, you need to spend time building the perfect system from start to finish. You should have a detailed outline for how everything should happen in the business.

What happens when a customer walks in the door, emails or calls? What is the protocol that the sales team follows? Do you have it detailed out so that your employees can follow a simple script, with a pricing calculator, and communication rules? If not, when they slip up, hold yourself accountable first, before lashing out at them. Once you have a system in place, you can hold them to a higher standard of customer service. 

The same goes for your art department. When your artist proofs a job, are they following the rules you have set in stone for how art should be proofed? Are they detailed enough to add print locations, ink colors, and accurate sizing? If not, when that job gets misprinted, and they blame the artist, you should ask yourself if you had given the art department a detailed checklist that they had to go through each time a job is taken. 

What about pre-press? Do your production managers have a template to follow on what kind of screens they should be using? When to create an underbase and a highlighted screen? Or do you give them control to make those decisions? If you have given them ownership, they need to be held accountable to the standards that you would hold yourself too. This takes time and education. 

How about your printers? Do they know proper placement based on the proof? Do they know the type of garment they are printing on and what ink to use? Or do you let them decide? What if there was a checkbox that they had to go through before they went to print. It is similar to an airline pilot, checking with the tower to be cleared for take-off. There should be a check that they go through every single time. 

Why is this all so important? Why is it necessary to be so detailed with your team and create a perfect system for your business? Because otherwise, when mistakes happen you have very little to hold them accountable to. You blame ineptitude, or the ability to apply a skill. That falls on your system not doing its job properly. 

It is no different than the best football team in the NFL, looking at playbooks and rehearsing how different routes are run. They must be able to know it inside and out and have resources readily available to them to adapt. 

At the end of the day, if you want to run a successful business you have to build a system that helps employees do their job. Allowing ignorant mistakes by untrained people with little checks and balances falls on you. Putting them in these risky positions will only work for so long because people are not perfect. Build the system similar to the business you want to run and you will see great success with your employees. Remember, they are people, working for a paycheck, for you.

Image source: MC Apparel


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