No mistake about it: Business blunders must be stopped when small

No mistake about it: Business blunders must be stopped when small

The internet is rife with stories about small errors that turned into huge mistakes for businesses and other organizations.

In some of the most memorable, NASA’s $125 million Mars orbiter was lost in space in 1999 because engineers at Lockheed Martin used English measurements in the design process, while NASA used metric. A record label passed on a fledgling band called the Beatles because an exec thought guitar music was old news. And in 2006, Italian airline Alitalia accidentally advertised the cost of a flight as $39 instead of $3,900, a slip-up that cost the company $7.7 million.

Depending on how close your errors have come to burgeoning out of control, those stories may either scare or amuse you. But savvy companies set standards for keeping little mistakes from becoming major errors.

“If you do not commit a series of mistakes in succession, you greatly limit the risk of the failure bringing (your business) down,” advises David Van Rooy in “Failure is inevitable, your response to it is not. The problem is either not learning from failure … or allowing it to cascade until you are left with a massive problem.”

To avoid such avalanches, consider adopting some of the following business methodology:

Lean on hard data, not just intuition. While human rationality and creativity will always have its place in business, the growth of highly sophisticated analytics and marketing automation tools means companies need no longer rely on guesswork. Human error is less likely when software applications are both high-level data interpretation and repetitive tasks that could otherwise take a huge chunk out of your company’s time and brainpower.

– Seek constant feedback. If you’re a business owner you’re likely time starved, there’s no way you can keep your finger on the pulse of every pending issue at your company. So think of your employees and clients as the eyes and ears of your organization; if you leave the lines of communication wide open, they’ll be able to fill you in when something starts to go awry.

– Learn from the experience. Instead of pushing an error under the rug, dissect how it happened and how your company can prevent its recurrence. What exactly went wrong? Was the gaffe the result of human error, and if so are staff changes necessary? Should new safeguards, procedures or policies be put in place?

– Retain effective accountants and lawyers. They represent peace of mind when mistakes could affect your bottom line or legal standing.

Finally, try to think of each mistake as a singular event to be solved. Once it’s noted and addressed, put it on the past without allowing it to “take up space in your head” or poison other elements of your business.

“Mistakes are the stepping stones to moving outside the comfort zone to the growing zone, where new discoveries are made and great lessons are learned,” writes Amy Rees Anderson in Forbes. “Mistakes are not failures, they are simply the process of eliminating ways that won’t work in order to come closer to the ways that will.”