Five steps to creating a culture of accuracy

Five steps to creating a culture of accuracy

How much credibility do we lose as a result of spelling mistakes? It’s like a public speaking mistake, as soon as the error is discovered by the audience, they completely forget about the content and just notice the mistake.

Accuracy is a habit, and although some people have a higher level of attention to detail than others, there are still a lot of measures you can take to ensure your team is producing accurate, clear communications and service delivery.

1.    Get details right the first time

There is no substitute for first-run accuracy. Whether you’re talking about an email, a contract or a promotional flyer, getting it right the first time is the best way to ensure a culture of accuracy.

So what happens if someone doesn’t get it right the first time? The response from the manager must be decisive and swift, and more about learning than blame. The person who made the mistake will feel awful; it’s up to the manager to ensure that this awful feeling becomes a motivator of future positive behaviour rather than a recoiling reaction where the team member no longer wants to take responsibility for a task.

There can be a lot of anxiety around sending promotional emails. What if there’s a typo? Sending it to 2000+ people in a single hit multiplies the impact of the error. Like public speaking, the bigger the audience the greater the fear. Surprisingly, this fear is rarely recognised as something to be addressed in the workplace.

2.    Reduce the indecision

Producing a lot of drafts or having multiple sources of correction can really increase the chance of error. As the original author tries to make amends as required, there can be uncertainty around what the final draft should be.

The way we collect feedback often varies, even for the same item that might need to be seen by a few people prior to final draft – some like to track the document, others highlight, some rewrite, some simply email or text something that needs changing, and some phone through an issue. This is compounded if a manager is then unavailable for clarification. Of course, we all need to be able to cope with changes in plans, but it’s essential that the plans change for good reason and are understood clearly, and ideally change as infrequently as possible.

3.    Have a sign-off process

Writing/producing a piece of content is a completely different skill to proofreading and editing it. Most accomplished writers will have separate writing and editing times for this reason. The office is no different – if something is important enough to get right, it’s important enough to ask for someone to proofread it. You would be amazed at the errors intelligent and competent people make, particularly when under duress.

If a sign-off process sounds like an unnecessary convolution to getting work completed, ask yourself a simple question: “If this communication I’m sending contains errors, am I okay with that?”

If a team is unified correctly then it benefits everyone to create work that is accurate. Some will gripe that they shouldn’t be doing someone else’s job for them. This is a selfish attitude that needs to be stamped out. Create a rule for deciding whether a piece needs to be proofread then make sure your team always passes on important communication pieces to a co-worker before sending it externally.

4.    Unification – get everyone using the same style

If there is agreement on how things should be done then you save a lot of dispute and angst. The work your department produces will be consistent and everyone can contribute to improving it, using an agreed yardstick of what ‘correct’ looks like.

Without this you inadvertently encourage people to splinter off and do things differently to each other. As much as individuality should be encouraged, having multiple styles of communication emanating from your team is not necessarily a good thing.

5.    Reward corrections

There is very little reward for correcting someone else’s work in the modern office. You’ll be met with resistance from the person who produced the work, who will likely think you are trying to assert yourself above him/her. You will probably have others pointing at imperfections in your work and despite doing the right thing (improving overall accuracy) the social forces will have you regretting it.

This is where a manager needs to step in and reward corrections. Errors are part of life, and particularly in stressful times accuracy can drop significantly, even from the best performers in the team. If there is a reward (I used to give my team members $50 as a reward before our annual catalogue was printed for every typographic error they found in the final draft ready for printing) then everyone can have some fun contributing to the overall output of the team.

The challenge is to make sure the corrections aren’t seen as a personal attack on anyone.

Accuracy is so important in a team because of the waste it reduces. Accurate output means fewer corrections and frustrations from the people you’re trying to serve (other departments or customers).

Eve Ash has a wide range of resources and books that can help people change their thinking and habits in a constructive way.


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