Understanding and managing human error – In a nutshell

Published on 24th June 2016

Understanding and managing human error – In a nutshell, expert advice from John Baker from Silver Moor Consulting

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Humans, all of us, make mistakes. In some industries these mistakes can have really bad consequences – nuclear power, aviation, railways and healthcare for example. In these industries significant effort is spent on eliminating errors, or reducing their consequences.
However, errors happen in every business and you will feel the effects of them. A common response to an error is to sanction the person in some way; either through formal discipline, or by sending them for remedial training. Whilst this may be emotionally satisfying for their manager, ultimately it is futile. After all, in most cases, the person will have felt the consequences of their mistake and will have learned from the experience. However, the ‘system’ that they work within – their workplace, the rules they follow, the stresses they feel and the organisation’s culture – will have shaped their behaviour. And this system won’t change unless we try to find out what effect it has on the people working there. This means that other people in similar situations are likely to make similar mistakes, hurting your business (or themselves).
So, what things should you look for? Well there are really three areas you need to explore:
• the person involved
• their workplace and,
• the wider organisation.
With the person you should find out if they have the skills, personality, attitude, and risk perception to do the job well.
In the workplace you should look at how the task has been designed, people’s workloads, their working environment and the procedures they need to follow.

In the wider organisation, culture plays a major role in how people behave. For example, how your leaders and managers are seen to behave will have a major effect on the behaviour of the people who work for them.
Mistakes provide a real opportunity to learn and improve your business – and there are plenty of simple tools and techniques you can use to uncover these underlying causal factors.
Mistakes happen – take the time to learn from them.

John Baker
Silver Moor Business Consulting LLP
[email protected]


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