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Mistakes Cost… And Can Kill

July 21, 2015

Annually, General Electric brings $3 to $4 billion to its bottom line by the savings generated by their Six Sigma error reduction program.  A couple of weeks ago, it was disclosed that a mistake in an arrest report led to a gun being issued to someone just convicted of murdering twelve people.  Mistakes are costly and can be deadly.

In business and not-for-profit organizations, mistakes cause countless dollars, wasted time, delays and universal dissatisfaction from bosses, employees, customers, beneficiaries and anyone else involved with the organizations.  Yet, much of the careless work is tolerated, often overlooked and even planned for.

Errors and mistakes will be made… we are human.  However, the successful organizations have these reduced to minimal amounts.  An organization’s culture needs to embrace an intolerance of errors with systems that include self-checking mechanisms providing the reliability of errors being caught by the person committing the careless action, and not left for later stages of review or quality control.

The importance of error-free work is obvious with the work done by air traffic controllers, but not so in less critical and stress-filled positions.  There will be occasional errors, but they do not have to be so pervasive that large quality control departments need to be established to catch these errors.

I feel that most errors can be eliminated with the proper message, mindset and insistence by organizations’ leaders.  So, I attribute wide spread errors as a failure of management.  The missive must be established that excellence is expected.  Pretty good is not acceptable.

Recently, after my car was serviced, I was asked by the service manager to respond to the survey I was going to receive that everything was excellent – the highest rating.  I was asked that if I felt otherwise about my experience, could I explain it so he could apologize and make sure it will not reoccur with the next customer.  He told me anything less than excellent was not satisfactory.  I was inspired by his great service and request that it be acknowledged in the survey; and then heard on the radio about the careless entry that led to the gun being issued.

For most organizations, it is unlikely people will die because of a mistake, but substantial parts of people’s lives will be lost to productive activity because of mistakes.  Widespread errors are a failure of management and the errors and those managers should have no place in most organizations.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Cohen, Harvey L permalink
    July 21, 2015 3:41 pm


    I agree overall with your message, but I disagree with one part of it, namely:
    “Recently, after my car was serviced, I was asked by the service manager to respond to the survey I was going to receive that everything was excellent – the highest rating. I was asked that if I felt otherwise about my experience, could I explain it so he could apologize and make sure it will not reoccur with the next customer. He told me anything less than excellent was not satisfactory.”
    While the desire to improve and correct less than “excellent” service is admirable, if, in fact, the service experience wasn’t “excellent” the survey should reflect your actual experience. Service organizations, whether associated with a car dealership or otherwise, are rated, and probably paid, based on their performance and we’re all used to hearing about how the XYZ dealership is “rated the number 1 dealership for service” in NJ or in the US – it’s based on these surveys, which are not a true reflection of the actual service received by car owners.

    If we have an “excellent” experience then the survey should reflect it, but if we don’t, the survey should also reflect that actual experience and any after-the-fact corrections should indicate that an improvement was needed, which should also be reflected in the survey. To be totally honest, surveys offered by any organization should include a question about whether or not any less-than-excellent service was brought to the attention of management and if it was fully and satisfactorily addressed. If the answer to such a question is yes then the parent company can grade such a response accordingly. Not all service that we receive is “excellent” or “perfect”.

    In a sense, it’s like taking a test in school and being given the chance to correct incorrect answers after the exam is turned in so that the teacher can get an “excellent” evaluation on the teacher’s ability to have his/her students learn and retain everything that they’re taught. Or, so that students will all receive an “A” on the test or report card. That’s (properly) considered cheating.

    On a personal note, I don’t respond to such surveys from car dealerships. And if I receive any kind of service that’s especially good I tell the person who provides it and also try to bring it to the attention of a manager. If it’s from a waitress or waiter, my wife and I will leave a larger-than-usual tip and mention the performance to the restaurant manager. The restaurant is always glad to get such feedback and we can hope that the manager will also comment to the person who provided the service so that it’s more likely to happen again.


    Confidential Attorney-Client Communication/Work Product

    Harvey L. Cohen, Esq.
    Lerner, David, Littenberg, Krumholz & Mentlik, LLP
    600 South Ave. West, Westfield, NJ 07090
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    • Ed Mendlowitz permalink
      July 21, 2015 7:00 pm

      I agree. If the service wasn’t excellent I would indicate that on the survey. The service manager wanted me to respond and offered me the opportunity to tell him first if it wasn’t great service. Usually I don’t respond when I get excellent service, but when I get less than satisfactory service – I always respond. However, if it is at a place I would never return to and don’t care about, then I don’t respond and don’t want to waste any energy on them.

  2. Gerard L Viola permalink
    July 21, 2015 6:05 pm

    Great post. Jerry Gerard L. Viola, CPA, LLC 900 Pompton Avenue, Unit A-2 Cedar Grove, NJ 07009 (973) 857-8966

  3. 6hawthorne permalink
    July 23, 2015 11:30 am


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