Encouraging Attention to Detail
How to Maintain High Standards
Do you have a team member who consistently makes small, but important, mistakes that compromise the quality of his work?
Apart from these mistakes, he's hardworking and creative, but it's apparent that he doesn't always take the time to check his work. As a result, some of his projects contain critical mistakes.
It takes time to double-check his work, and this has now begun to eat into the time you should be dedicating to other tasks. You're also beginning to worry that his lack of consistency might drag down the quality of work produced by your team, and might even damage your reputation.
You don't know what keeps going wrong or what to do next, and you're left wondering whether he will ever improve. The good news is that there are several steps you can take to encourage him – and the rest of your team – to pay attention to detail, which we will explore in this article.
Become a "stickler" for detail and enhance the quality of your work using these five techniques.
The Importance of Quality Control Systems
Human beings, by nature, make mistakes. No one's perfect, after all! That's why hospitals, airlines and other major organizations require their employees to follow detailed procedures. These exist because no single individual can be expected to do everything perfectly, all of the time.
Efficient procedures can help you to avoid small but risky mistakes. Procedures and checklists guide people's attention to every necessary detail, in a sequence that must be followed methodically.
Putting systems and procedures in place to maintain quality is just one of the ways that you can encourage attention to detail. A great example of these systems is Six Sigma, which helps organizations control quality. Using a methodology like Six Sigma can help you to improve your reputation, avoid costly mistakes, and boost investors' confidence in your organization.
8 Strategies for Encouraging Attention to Detail
Here are eight practical strategies that you can use to improve your team members' attention to detail.
1. Create Your Own Quality Control Procedures
Develop written procedures for your team's most important tasks. Set up checklists and workflow diagrams which guide people through tasks from start to finish. If a procedure changes or if you think it can be improved, don't forget to update these documents.
However, be aware that having too many procedures in place can make work inflexible and lead to an oppressive environment. Create checklists only for your team’s most critical tasks, or for tasks that require the most attention to detail. Review these procedure documents regularly, to make sure that they are up to date.
When you introduce a new procedure, check in regularly with your team to make sure that it's being followed correctly. After all, someone who's confident in her ability to carry out a task might feel that she no longer needs to follow the procedure document. However, this can make her complacent and mistakes might begin to creep in.
Give your team the time and space that it needs to focus when it's carrying out tasks that require high attention to detail. Minimize distractions by turning off phones and logging out of email or social media channels.
If you work in a particularly busy or noisy office, you may want to consider setting your team members up in a private meeting room, or allowing them to work from home, where they are less likely to be disturbed. If this isn't possible, consider allowing them to wear headphones so that they can drown out noise with music or white noise.
3. Get People to Check, Check and Check Again
Someone who regularly checks and re-checks his work will likely be applauded for their attention to detail, but someone who submits their work without reviewing it could soon gain a reputation for carelessness.
The work that your team produces will likely need to meet certain quality standards before it can be submitted. However, these expectations are unlikely to be achieved with the first draft. It may take time, but getting your people to check and re-check their work will help to avoid mistakes and improve the quality of work produced.
Stop processes from becoming overly detailed and laborious by splitting them into different stages. For example, in an editing process, the first stage could focus on factual accuracy, then the second stage could look at consistency, the third stage could focus on style and flow, and the final stage could look at spelling.
Encourage your team members to write down everything that they do. A lack of documentation can lead to steps being skipped or procedures being ignored completely. This can diminish the quality of your product or service, and may even tarnish your and your brand's reputation.
If people rely on their own, informal, mental checklists and systems, the correct procedures can't be referred to if something goes wrong, or if a team member leaves the company.
4. Introduce a Buddy System
No newspaper would publish an article that has only been seen by its writer. They employ editors and proofreaders because people are notoriously bad at recognizing their own mistakes.
To help you to combat this in your own team, introduce a peer-review or buddy system, so that everyone's work is checked by at least one other person before it reaches you.
Don't involve too many people in one process, or else you risk introducing waste through duplication. Read our article on lean principles to improve the efficiency of your processes.
5. Dedicate Time to Detail
Regularly set aside a dedicated time for your team to review and check its work. This is particularly important when you introduce a new system or procedure, as it will likely take time for your team to get used to more rigorous ways of working.
Encourage people to treat this time as sacred, and remind them to avoid multitasking and other distractions during it.
6. Prioritize Tasks
Your energy levels and your ability to concentrate can fluctuate over the course of the day. Some people prefer to prioritize important tasks in the morning, while others find that their concentration is best during the afternoon.
Ask team members to work out their "peak time" – the time of the day that they feel most focused and are at their most productive. Encourage them to schedule their most important tasks for this time, so that they'll be more rigorous, and less likely to miss important details.
7. Make Attention to Detail Your New Habit
Attention to detail, like any other skill, can be taught and become a habit. However, this can take time. Research has found that it can take around two months of consistent behavior to form a new habit, so be sure to give your team plenty of time to get used to the new systems that you introduce.
Build good habits into your team's routine to effect positive and long-lasting change. One way to do this is to tie new habits to existing ones. This works by using an old habit to trigger a new one. A specific commitment, such as, "I'll do my expenses straight after our Wednesday team meeting," will more likely succeed than a vague one, such as, "I'll do my expenses every week."
8. Give Your Team a Reason to Be Detailed
Time spent on being thorough can make or break a professional reputation. You want to be known as the team that gets work done properly and can be depended on, not the one that creates more work!
But sometimes it's not enough to know that something should be done – it's also important to know why. Encourage your team to learn more about how its work impacts other departments. This will help people to appreciate how the quality of their work affects colleagues' workloads and deadlines.
If colleagues from other departments have raised specific issues, share them with your team. You might even consider getting them to rank the errors that they encounter most frequently, to help you to identify the areas that require the most attention to detail. If your people see the impact of rework, especially on other teams, they will understand the need for thorough checklists and procedures more fully.
The strategies above assume that everyone in your team is keen to stamp out mistakes and is willing to adopt new methods. However, if you find that someone in your team is resistant to such changes, you may need to coach them through this, or use strategies to address poor performance.
Many jobs require attention to detail, but it can be hard to maintain standards consistently. However, your team's professional reputation and, by extension, your own is largely defined by the quality of its work, so it's important to encourage the right attitude and skills.
The best way to do this is by introducing checklists and formalizing procedures, particularly for important tasks. Remember to give your team the time and space to concentrate and use a buddy system to reinforce the approach.
Allow your team to get used to any new processes that you introduce and help it to appreciate how mistakes and errors can affect other departments' workloads and deadlines. Finally, tackle any remaining performance issues.
If you follow these strategies, attention to detail will likely become a core part of your team's culture.