|Ever been to a restaurant with someone
who drinks decaf coffee?
You sit down and order drinks. Someone at
your table asks for decaf coffee. Your server fills the order as
requested. So far, so good.
Pretty soon, your food arrives and you
dig in. The drinks are getting low, so either your server or someone
assigned the mission-critical task of keeping drinks topped off swoops in.
The coffee gets refilled, but not with decaf. Luckily, the decaf drinker
notices that the server isn’t wielding the familiar orange color-coded pot
and brings the mistake to the server’s attention. A mumbled apology is
offered, and the server takes the cup to the kitchen to swap it out for
the right stuff.
No harm done, right? Happens all the
Let’s take a look at the effects of this
minor incident on the parties involved:
- It wastes the restaurant’s time and
money, literally pouring good product down the drain.
- It wastes the server’s time, eating
into time available to take good care of his or her customers.
- To some small extent, it erodes the
customers’ confidence in the restaurant.
Multiply these effects by dozens of
locations in a restaurant chain times thousands of decaf customers times a
boatload of wrong-coffee pourings, and you get scads of lost time,
product, money, efficiency, productivity, and customer confidence.
All irretrievable. And all so easily
Virtually all restaurants use orange
color-coding to designate decaf coffee. Astonishingly, though, most still
rely on memory or ESP to determine whether a customer gets regular or
A very few food service operators have
eradicated this problem by placing a telltale coaster under each cup of
No more doubt. No asking the customer
about the contents of the cup. No more mistakes, or wasted time, or wasted
product, or eroded customer relationships.
What a simple, foolproof, and inexpensive
solution to a widespread problem.
Two quick questions:
- Why the heck doesn’t every
restaurant do this?
- What’s your version of this problem
in your business?
Now, I know that not all problems in
business are this simple or this cut-and-dried. So, regardless of the
severity or complexity of your oft-repeated errors, how about using an old
saying to give this phenomenon a name?
“We never have time to do it right, but
we always have time to do it over.”
Here are two important take-aways from
- We’re talking about a system for
fixing a recurring problem.
- Every mistake is an opportunity to
improve your company.
Let’s look at both of these ideas.
Use systems to avoid future mistakes.
If your approach to errors is
people-centered, I recommend that you raise your sights a bit. While
mistakes do happen and they can often be attributed to human error, a lack
of systems and procedures is more likely in most cases.
Take the coffee example. If the manager
happens to witness the decaf error, a brief conversation with the server
might help avoid such mistakes for a while. The boss might even go so far
as to convene a meeting of the wait staff, where they explore the
importance of remembering which customer gets what coffee.
All well and good, but why not put a
system in place (like the coaster) to remove as much human error as
So I again ask, what’s your version of
this problem in your business? Can you fix your nagging, recurring
mistakes with color-coding, forms, templates, systems or procedures?
Every mistake is an opportunity to
improve your company.
Mistakes are costly. They waste time,
money, productivity and resources. They aggravate employees. They lose
customers. Even so, each and every one is a golden opportunity for
Every time a mistake happens, ask: What
can be done to prevent this same type of error from happening in the
future? This is “root cause” thinking. You and all your people should get
good at looking for the root causes of problems.
It’s not about blaming the individual
employee. When errors occur, the person involved needs to admit it without
fear of reprisal.
Drive individual blame and cover-ups out
of your company. Replace them with willingness to admit mistakes, so you
can find the root cause of errors and prevent them in the future. Learn
Make it the job of everyone in your
company to identify and attack the root causes of errors.
Stop pouring the wrong coffee. Stop doing
it over. Instead, start doing it right the first time.
Bill Collier is
a St. Louis-based business coach, consultant and speaker. He is the
author of the book “How to
Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life.” His
website is www.collierbiz.com,
and his email is