Six steps to improve employee work quality

by Bruce Tulgan24 Aug 2016
When an employee’s work quality is low, usually we assume that the employee was not trained properly. Retraining is typically the first solution.
But what about the employee who obviously knows exactly what she is doing and still makes lots of mistakes?
Often this is an employee who is so confident in her competence that she moves through the steps of each task almost automatically, thinking she could do it “in her sleep”. And that’s when the errors occur. You need that employee to wake up.
Scrutiny alone can have a huge impact on an employee’s attention to detail.
As you might have noticed, it’s often the speed-demons who make the most mistakes. This is especially problematic in positions where the basis for performance evaluation and rewards is disproportionately weighted to productivity measures rather than quality.
Indeed, quality is almost always harder to monitor and measure than productivity. Tracking quality requires regular auditing of work product, close attention to the details, and plenty of subjective judgment calls.
Quality assurance slows things down because slowing things down is how to assure quality. It’s a business judgment you have to make – and a delicate balance for you and your direct-reports.
They need your constant guidance and direction striking that balance: “Work on quality this week. Speed next week. Quality again the week after.”
Let’s say this week you are going to work on quality. In your regular one-on-one dialogue, start focusing on the goal of eliminating recurring errors, one by one:
  1. Spend some time with this employee and together conduct an audit of her work product. Get inside the metrics – paying very close attention to the details.
  2. Take it one task at a time: Review the employee’s work in progress and completed work product. Watch the employee do the task in question multiple times. Is the employee following a checklist?
  3. Look at the employee’s every concrete action in the process: Check it against the best practices; step by step; concrete action by concrete action. Do a micro-gap analysis. Start coaching to fill the gaps. If needed, take each item on the checklist and break it down into smaller pieces so there is a mini-checklist for each item.
  4. Every step of the way, make sure the employee is actually using the checklists. You might even encourage the employee to make notes in the margins of the checklists. Then you can use those notes and checklists as a tool to guide your coaching conversations.
  5. If the employee appears to be following best practices, start looking for pitfalls: Zero in on exactly where and when the most frequent mistakes are occurring. Try to figure out exactly what’s going wrong.
  6. Choose one concrete action at a time to “make error free” and take it slowly. What if the employee could eliminate just one recurring error per week?
Once you’ve increased the quality of one task, move on to the next task. And so on.
Every step of the way remember to monitor the productivity of this person’s work to make sure it doesn’t dip and acknowledge her continued high-speed, even as her pace slows down just enough to dot her “I”s and cross her “t”s on that checklist.
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Bruce Tulgan is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking. He is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader.