“If Our People Make Mistakes, It’s Most Likely Due To One Of Two Things— Incompetence Or Poor Behaviour” (Myth 5)

This is a classic “smoke and mirrors” myth—you’re looking directly at something, believing it to be true, but it’s not what it appears to be at all.

It can be very easy to get caught up in this myth. It happens all the time because it seems so straightforward!

You can see that there’s a problem caused by a human error, so it’s natural to assume that the problem must be with your people. After all, they’re the ones who aren’t performing.

Buying into this myth means that all the focus is on resolving the issues surrounding your people. This means that the roots of the problem aren’t addressed, and performance continues to be unsatisfactory. You keep riding the same old merry-go-round, not realising that you’re just moving in circles.
The Communication Merry-Go-Round

All too often, issues in the workplace are put down to a lack of communication.

Every time a problem occurs, everybody jumps on the merry-go-round, declaring that communication is the problem and agreeing that it needs to improve, before going back to their area to try and make the necessary changes.

Time after time, I have seen this lead to kneejerk responses, such as:

The smoke – companies give people more training, based on the assumption that the mistake was made because they didn’t know any better.

The mirrors – companies discipline their employees, based on the assumption that they knew what they were doing and made a choice to behave inappropriately.

Training and discipline will always play an important role in the workplace and may offer a solution. However, they are still system-related, and, when it comes to problems with performance, they can be a distraction from what is really going on.

So, what are these “smoke and mirrors” hiding?

The belief is that people are lazy, can’t be bothered or need more training. The reality is that, although human error may be the point of cause for the mistake, the reason the person was able to make a mistake in the first place is almost certainly due to a failure in the system.

The fault could lie anywhere, from the leadership to the equipment to the processes.
The Failure In The System

In most cases, your people don’t want to harm your operations or intentionally violate your rules. It may happen on very rare occasions, but it is by no means the main reason that your people have caused errors or aren’t performing to the standard you require.

Everywhere my work takes me, from factory floors to office environments, I can honestly say that people almost always want to do a good job.

If you think about it, this makes sense. If they are performing well, then it directly benefits them. It makes their working day easier and safer, gives them greater job security and improves their chances of progression or promotion.

So, if they are not performing well or continuously cause errors, did the system help them do a good job?