Training New Employees - What's a Genuine Mistake?

Training New Employees - What's a Genuine Mistake?

by Dr. Diane M. Hoffmann
As Featured on EzineArticles

It's a sure thing that, while being trained (and even after), people will make mistakes. It is up to management and supervisors to identify what types of mistakes are being made and recognize the context within which these mistakes are made. There are three types of mistakes:

1. silly mistakes
2. stupid mistakes and
3. genuine mistakes

Management might come across mistakes made by the new employee and perceive them as "stupid", while in actual fact, the individual had not been instructed properly by the people who were "supposed to train them". I see that happening a lot in companies and it is a very unfair judgment on the new person starting out. That's why I always say that, first, management must make sure to place new people in the hands of high caliber staff members for training.

The 80/20 formulae can be used as a measuring tool to ask, "what ratio of error is taking place here?" If the mistakes occur 20% of the time or less, then that's OK. They will decrease through repetition of the tasks. But if they occur at 80% or more, there's a problem, and the next step is to find out what the problem is -- not ignore it.

For example, an office clerk might tell another office clerk that a certain computer disk is to be found in a "pouch". While the new person is looking for a "pouch", the boss pressuring for it, the disk is actually filed uncovered in a disk tray. The new person is looking for one thing and the manager is upset because the new office clerk can't locate "a simple disk". What the manager does not know is the context within which the new person is working: under someone else's misinformation.

A new manager might have been mislead by a trainer to believe that a support person would provide all the accurate and current price lists for an upcoming presentation. But during the new manager's presentation meeting, this information proved to be false -- the support person did not provide the correct information. This makes the new manager look bad, but he had been told by the trainer that he could rely on the support personnel -- and he did. Being new, he had no benchmark to verify the information given to him.

Now, of course, he has learned, the hard way, that he cannot trust this support person. Before judging the new manager to be incompetent, or inexperienced, those witnessing this genuine "mistake" must use the context and realize there must be some factor unknown to them. A genuine mistake will be most likely to occur within the 20% of the 80/20 formulae.

On the other hand "Stupid" or "Silly" mistakes are more likely to occur in the 80% range. If a person is truly incompetent, immature, inexperienced or unsuitable for the job, mistakes will be of a different nature and more frequent. Fortunately these will show up in the first week or two of training, or within the first month at least.

However, if the new person will be performing monthly tasks, when the task comes up again in a month, the trainer will have to take into consideration that, although the new clerk has been working there for a month, performing the task will only be the second time. To the new person, this will be a whole new review of the task, and training will still be required during the process as the trainee recalls the steps covered a month earlier. Nobody can remember a task done once, a month later.

If there is an indication of real problems (such as making too many mistakes, or silly and stupid), it is critical to make sure to consider all possible contextual influences. The key is to recognize and identify its existence right away and deal with it before the probation period is over or before it grows into a bigger problem. Sometimes one may have to bring in an outside consultant to discuss the problem and possible solutions.

Management can't just shake its head when a mistake is made. It has to recognize and examine situations within the context of the surrounding training. It has to find out why and how a problem happened before it goes further. This is done through the tools and activities of the communication process. But sadly very few do it.

It's a sure thing that, while being trained, people will make mistakes. It is up to management and supervisors to identify what mistakes are being made within the three types and positively accept what a genuine mistake is as part of the training process./dmh

Article Copyright(c)Diane M. Hoffmann. You may print this article making sure to include the following bio without any changes.

Diane M. Hoffmann is the founder of Hoffmann-Rondeau Communications and author of the 296-page printed book "Contextual Communication, Organization and Training". Diane also provides a 2-part e-book version of her printed book, "Improve Communication, Verbal and Nonverbal" and "Improve Communication, Organization and Training" as well as many free articles which can be seen at her blog at

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