Mistakes

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about asking if what I’ve done is correct:

I have been in a job for a year now. I am worried that I am making mistakes but don’t want to keep asking if the work has been correct. There are some things I am unsure of. Should I ask via e-mail? I am worried how I will look to my manager as he doesn’t seem very happy with me and these are things I should probably know already.

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

Your question tells me that you are working scared. You fear that you will look bad in the eyes of your manager, and that he already is not happy with you. This fear is based on uncertainty as to what is correct and what might be wrong. It also is linked to a lingering feeling that your boss is not happy with you.You don’t describe the kind of work you do.

Apparently, your job is not simply doing the same kind of thing over and over again. You say that you don’t want to keep asking if the work has been correct. Some jobs allow for slight mistakes, such as dancing. There are correct steps and incorrect moves, but no one will suffer much if one misses a step. Even pros Dancing for the Stars make mistakes. In some job things must be right. Mistakes can cost big bucks. Years ago, release of poison caused serious illness and death to thousands at a Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal, India. I doubt that the kind of mistakes possible in your job demands you must be zero free of mistakes, but whatever you are assigned should not be left to uncertainty about if what you have done is correct or incorrect. In today’s workplace, fear of mistakes is natural, especially because of complex information technologies.

Whatever your job, your concern about doing it correctly should be motivated by wanting to deliver what is expected and desired to your internal and/or external customer. That is what matters, not just whether you might look bad to your boss. If the customer is what matters, you must put aside fear of looking stupid. You need to know if what you are doing is correct! How can you know? You can have procedures written out step by step. You can have someone who does it right monitor you several times as you are performing a task. You can show what you have done and have someone inspect. You can get feedback from whomever next gets your product or service. Are they delighted? What is the number of rejects? High quality in manufacturing is what is called six sigma, and that means no more than 3.4 defective parts per million.

When I consulted with General Electric, that was the standard, and a concerted effort was made to continuously to monitor and improve the processes that would work toward zero-defects. In your case, who gets your work? What means of feedback do you have? Are there people who can say, “Jonnie, you did this well?” or “Jonnie, this is not quite right?” Your boss should help you get feedback that confirms or disconfirms what you have done. You seem to only measure the correctness of what you do by whether your manager is happy or displeased, and you have no systematic way of learning that.

Soooooo you need to initiate a way to get that from him. Here’s how: Request a time-out meeting. In that meeting ask him to evaluate your work. Say you are committed to doing a good job. Ask how you can know that. Also say you want to know immediately when you are doing things correctly and when you have made a mistake, and tell him that you have hesitated to bother him even when you are uncertain. Say you don’t want to be a pain in asking, but until you know that you are sure you can do a task without wondering that you want to know if it is ok.

Ask if it would be good to meet regularly for a few minutes once a week or rather if it would suit him best to come to check your work each time you wonder, especially if you have something new assigned. In short, you need to come to an understanding about how he wants you to communicate with him if you are uncertain. For example you might say, “Mr. Stone, how do you want me to communicate with you? How often? When, at the end of the day? Once a week or when? Does this make sense? Think of him as a coach and of being on his team. Think realizing that working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. By that I mean work so that both he and you feel proud of the work that goes out of your work group.

William Gorden