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Is there any effective way to get colleagues to reduce their error rate?

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Question: "Frankly, our admin team makes a lot of mistakes. We deal with a lot of paperwork and we create typos, overlook incorrect addresses, forget to format things correctly, mislabel files, etc. It’s all well and good to tell people to ‘be more careful,’ but there’s got to be a better way to put people into a mindset that cuts down on simple errors. Who’s got a solution?”  — Pru, Executive Finance Assistant

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

The Asssitant August 9, 2013 at 8:26 am

I have a new boss who does so much of her own work. She is great in her specialty but frequently makes spelling and punctuation errors. Additionally, uses Microsoft Word even when Excel would be the better choice. She has admitted that she does not know how to use Excel, thus her overuse of Word. She then forwards the file to me for printing. This creates difficulties for me because the document needs to fit on one page but in Word, there is no easy way to do this without major alterations in font, margins, etc. I don’t feel comfortable bringing this to her attention. She is so sweet and I do not want to hurt her feelings. What can I do?


Rita August 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Wow! I agree with all of the comments, but wanted to add. If there’s no way to get someone else to proof your document, try this. Print the document out, then grab a ruler. Start at the END of the document and proof, line by line, from bottom to top, using the ruler to cover the line you haven’t read yet. That way, you’ll spot anything you missed while proofing from the top down, because it’s not the order you typed it in, and your brain won’t anticipate what it thinks it should see.


Sharon August 7, 2013 at 3:39 pm

The final product is only as good as the collaborative effort of everyone. For example, payrolls require on-time accurate computer reports and sign-in-sheets. We can only produce a quality product if accuracy via proofing and audits is done at every level of a project prior to us beginning our part of the work. Being allowed that second set of eyes is something I can only dream of where I work.

Cooperation and Teamwork 101 is lacking in too many businesses and government offices these days. That is where we should be starting.

I do the best I can with what I have and try to improve every day.


Lauren Smith August 7, 2013 at 2:35 am

Oh!!! I understand the situation, even I have faced it many times. I think this problem arouses as the number of resources and projects increases. Or you can say that incorrect paperwork is directly proportional to number of resources. I have figured out the solution of this problem. I have started using a Scheduling Software. Scheduling Software comes up with many features like it manage all the resources and assign all the projects with no headache. It also keep a track of all the reports. I think this software is one of the best solution. You can try this once.
Try this:


Pam August 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Lynn, I was just about to send the same comment, when I saw that you stated there were a lot of errors in the comments that have been posted. We type so fast, that we think we know what we have typed. And sometimes, even though we proof-read quickly, we overlook our own errors because we know what we were attempting to say. For me, if I have the time, I move to another project for 30 minutes to one hour, then come back to review my work. Sometimes it is easier to see our own mistakes then. If I don’t have that time, I ask someone in the office to review it with me.


Lynn August 6, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Oh, I agree….quite often it’s much more time-effective to have another pair of eyes look at what we’ve proofread once, as they can immediately spot errors we’ve overlooked, because we knew what we meant to be typing!! :)
I’ve also done the “wait a while then comeback to it” method…I often have multiple windows open for just that reason…..the downside is overlooking an item that may have needed completion. It’s a tough call all around. Experience has taught me that trying to get staff to use the spellcheck is a matter of breaking-in a new habit.


Lynn August 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

I think the first recommmendation in general is to make sure all staff’s Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Outlook, Excel) spellcheck settings include grammar. It takes some getting used to, but greatly improves the quality of work, and often catches those interchangeable words plain spellcheck will miss (they’re/their; sum/some) because it is also checking sentence structure. Most importantly, stress that staff need to actually USE this feature, or it’s a pointless gesture.

In reviewing the comments, there are mistakes right in them, so as Micki says (paraphrased), get a second pair of eyes to check BEFORE submission. It will make the entire unit’s work look much more polished.


DeeCee August 1, 2013 at 5:47 pm

You may want to offer some business writing/grammar training. Push for excellency in spelling, punctuation and grammar – make it part of the performance review, as Treva mentioned. There are several online sites that offer free instruction on sentence structure, proper punctuation & grammar, etc. Seminars would also be helpful. A little extra training may help a lot. And of course, proofread everything – twice!


BABS August 1, 2013 at 5:39 pm

I pretty much agree withi everyone with the exepiton of Treva. It isn’t that admins don’t want to produce good clean documents; but when companies cut back on the administration portioni of the staff, continue to incease the size of the management staff, and still expect the same amount if not more work done – then errors are going to be made as the old saying goes ‘haste makes waste.’ While management may say they understand they have doubled or tripled your workload, they little tolerance and understanding as to why a project, or their work isn’t done and shipped out, and why you put overtime on your time card to get it all done. Performance reviews are generally marked needs to learn how to delegate, and practice time management, and more efficient use of her/his time.


Treva August 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Unfortunately, most of us work in environments where the amount of work a person produces is overshadowed by the quality of their work. It is very important for every assistant to proofread their work for errors and then pass it along to another assistant to proofread, two pairs of eyes are better than one. However, being able to proofread your own work is a trait not everyone is proficient in doing and is very low on the tolerance level in most organizations. Personally, I think it shows a sign of laziness in just trying to get the job done without caring about the end result which is not a good look for them or the company. One possible solution would be to make it part of their performance review. I would have a group admin meeting and stress to them that errors will no longer be tolerated and going forward, they will be rated on the accuracy of the work they produce. Maybe that will be the jolt they need!


Rita August 1, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Have you considered creating a buddy-system? Team Alice and Betty up as buddies. Everything that Alice creates, she gives to Betty to proofread, and vice versa. After a while, Alice and Betty will both be more careful, make fewer errors, and eliminate the need for all the proofreading.


Admin in Texas August 1, 2013 at 4:42 pm

If there are alot of mistakes, proofreading documents always catches errors. It is sometimes a good idea if someone else proofreads the documents as well. The person needs to ask questions and make sure they have clear instructions before starting a project. Where I work mistakes like that are frown upon. I always make sure everything is perfect before I turn anything.


Micki August 1, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I agree with Texas! Having a second pair of eyes is a very good idea. I have noted that a lot of people nowadays simply don’t care. To me, when I send out a document with errors it reflects poorly on my skills and my office’s professionalism. The documentation that we produce doesn’t just serve an administrative purpose – it “represents”!


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