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How should we track employee errors to improve quality?

How should we track employee errors to improve quality?

This is a sensitive question that I get asked frequently. Leaders asked me the best way to track employee errors. In response, I generally ask why they want to do this. The most common answer is that they want to improve quality. (The other typical reason is for personal evaluations, whether related to discipline or to appraisals. That requires a different tack on the response.)

There are several assumptions that a boss is making, whether intentional or not, when they jump past looking at a process and dive into employee actions. They assume:

  1. There is a good process in place.
  2. The employee is trained on the process.
  3. The employee is not following the process.

Let’s look at each of these three assumptions in detail. First of all, before a boss can reasonably hold an employee accountable, she must have a standard established. And that standard must be fair. In this case, the standard is the process. If most people are able to get good results from a process, but one person seems to struggle constantly, the process is likely sound. If all people are having trouble, then the leader needs to fix the process before trying to track individual data.

If it is only one person having trouble, the boss must confirm that the individual has been properly trained. This goes beyond simply asking or checking records. The leader must watch the person to see if they know the steps of the process. If they do not, retraining is required.

If they do know the steps, and simply are not following them, the boss must figure out why. In many cases, there is a valid reason. It could be that there is a required tool that frequently turns up missing, or a machine that is finicky so is not used. It could be that the process calls for a two person job, but the other person is frequently unavailable. In these cases, most employees are given the choice between two tough options, but are trying to do the right thing.

Sometimes, though, the employee is the problem. The employee might have discovered that there are shortcuts that give him more downtime even though it increases the risk of poor quality. They might not like doing necessary maintenance and 5S, so skip steps that eventually cause quality problems. The common thread here, though, is that the employee is getting personal gain from not following the process. That is not a quality issue. It is a behavioral one, and should be handled in a different manner.

The bottom line is that in most situations, leaders will find that they don’t really need individual employee data to get the process back on track. Of course, they will need to track the process, but that data will be collected in the aggregate. And most importantly, that data should be used to improve the process, not manage employees.

 

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