Tolerance for Error

Most areas of life have some tolerance for error in them. In work environments in particular, there is usually some tolerance for error, but often, it is dependent not on the person making the error, but on someone else. As such, the topic of this article is the tolerance for error on the part of other people.

There are a few reasons why an error should not be tolerated, but even in those cases where the reasons are valid, the level of response to an error is heavily dependent on the nature of the error.

For example, a mistake that costs a business the equivalent of 1% of its annual revenue is not of the same caliber as one which does not have any noticeable effect on the company’s bottom line. Likewise, making an error on a formal filing to the government resulting in late fees and time-consuming audits is much more severe than the same error made in a weekly report to a manager.

As such, the tolerance for the error is actually the same in both cases, but the level of reaction is not. In both cases, the error must be pointed out to the person who made it – otherwise, how will you ensure that there is not a recurrence?

However, the real question is what happens after that mention is made?

On the one hand, you can choose to let it go, and ensure that whatever steps are necessary to ensure a relapse does not occur are taken. For example, if the cause of the error was a lack of training, then ensure that the training happens. If the cause was “I forgot, but now that you mention it, I did know about X” then it is necessary to determine if anything needs to be done, and it would depend on the outcome of the error to answer that.

On the other hand, you can insist on treating each and every mistake like a crime against humanity. You can ignore the explanation for the error, and whether a lesson was learned from the mistake. You can act like the mistake was the root cause of the deaths of millions of people.

However, bear in mind that reactions like that have the following consequences:

  • People will never own up to a mistake under such rule, even when doing so could reduce the effect of the error
  • People will leave such an environment as soon as another opportunity presents itself
  • People will shift blame as much as possible and FAIL TO LEARN FROM THE MISTAKE other than the most simple lesson – DON’T GET CAUGHT

So, which will you be? Will you let people learn from their mistakes, with a tolerance level that promotes learning? Or will you push people and harp on all the errors, forcing them to leave an environment that punishes honest mistakes rather than educate?