The Invisible Human Errors That Nobody Notices

Human error is everywhere and often difficult to avoid without implementing the proper tools. More often than not, human error is the reason number One for the purchase of high-quality tech software solutions, so that a variety of business processes can be automated for best quality. Other entrepreneurs suggest deploying careful recruiting methods to ensure that you get only highly qualified professionals to work with you. However, while it seems that human error is another work for lack of skills and attention, it would be incorrect to assume that there is no other kind of human error. In fact, the workplace is full of invisible mistakes and behaviors that are perpetuated under your very eyes but that you don’t see. They can be damaging to your team, your production and your overall business. It’s time to start the hunt for the invisible human errors that eat away your employees’ health and sanity, day after day.

Do you know what’s going on in your office?

Unhealthy stress management

We get it: Every workplace is a stressful environment, from the impossibly short deadlines to the difficult client. The workload piles up, your staff stays longer hours, and somehow the stressful situation seems to normalize any unhealthy stress management behavior, from heavy drinking to the abuse of hard substances. It may be invisible to the naked eye, but you should pay close attention to people’s habits and natural warmth to detect the early signs of an addictive behavior. More often than not, a drug test can confirm your suspicion. That’s why it’s essential as a manager to monitor workloads and offer stress management classes before it’s too late.

Emotional abuse

Millions of employees of all ages, ethnic and racial backgrounds hate going to work. Why should they like it, when staying at home all day might sound a lot more appealing, you ask. These employees hate the workplace because they’ve fallen victim of emotional bullying, from colleagues, managers or subordinates. The problem with this form of emotional abuse is that it directly attacks a person’s competence, integrity and dignity over an extensive period of time in such a way that it can go unnoticed. The victims live in a state of psychological terror, which can be aggravated by bad-mouthing, isolation, criticism, etc. This destructive attack can lead to depression, anxiety disorder and extended sick leaves. It’s your responsibility to keep your eyes open for any peculiar behavior so that you can offer support to those who need it and help them to stop the abuse.

Air pollution inside the office

So you’ve got a trendy office in town with an air con and a fantastic view of the city? That’s great but how pure and fresh is your air? Fungal spores, chemicals and smoke can be harmful to human health as they create what is called indoor air pollution. If your office has not implemented any air purification solution — from using specialist plants to sophisticated ventilation systems — it’s likely that your team might be suffering from the sick-building syndrome.

In conclusion, it’s vital that companies rethink their health and safety protocols to offer sufficient coverage for several invisible human errors that impact both business growth and personal wellness.

Human Error: The One Thing Holding Your Business Back

StrategyDriven Human Performance Management Article
Photo courtesy of Pexels

Running a successful and efficient company is all about time management and reducing errors. A business that spends as much of the day being as productive as possible will always be set for success. The same can be said for a company that doesn’t make a lot of errors, therefore doesn’t waste time correcting these errors.

Sadly, there is one thing that can cost your business and hold you back; human error. Yes, while employees are essential for your business, they are guilty of making errors from time to time. One simple mistake could cause disruption in your company that leads to half a day being wasted as you all try and fix it.

As a consequence, it should be a top priority for businesses to reduce human error. Is this even possible? Of course, it is, and here are two easy ideas you can use:

Use Software For Certain Tasks

To completely eradicate the risk of human error in some tasks, you can use software. This is particularly useful regarding various human resources tasks such as paying employees and managing staff absences. These are tasks that often have the most mistakes occurring. As it says on the HRIS Payroll Software website, the right software can free up time and minimize errors. By relying on a computer to do certain tasks, you haven’t got to worry about employees making mistakes.

Software isn’t going to work for every single task in the office, but it will be a great solution to plenty of HR or accountancy tasks. Essentially, anything that can be automated or done by a piece of software doesn’t need to be done by a human.

Hire Better Employees

A simple way to reduce human errors is to ensure you hire the best people for every job. Companies that rush through the hiring process usually end up with employees that make a lot of mistakes. You must ensure you hire the best person and that they prove their worth. Someone with a good track record and lots of experience in the same role is ideal for your business. They know what they’re doing right from the start and will make far fewer mistakes than someone who might be in their first ever job.

The best thing you can do is take your time when hiring someone. Review their resume, check their employment history, talk to their previous employers, bring them in for an interview, etc. I’d even go as far as to say you should give them a trial run before actually hiring them full-time too. This shows if they’re good enough for your business and will highlight their mistake-making ability.

There may only be two ideas here, but they’ll go a long way to helping with any human error problems you have. As it was mentioned at the beginning of the piece, human error causes disruptions and wastes time. By reducing the likelihood of employee errors, you can stop holding your business back and drive forward in the right direction.

Human Performance Management Best Practice 11 – Color Coding

StrategyDriven Human Performance Management Best Practice ArticleToday’s industrial complexes and office spaces employ vast numbers of redundant systems so to ensure continued operations in the event of equipment failure. Consequently, those who operate and maintain these systems are constantly challenged to perform their work on the appropriate equipment train. In order to avoid wrong-train accidents, operators and maintainers should employ error reduction tools that help them identify the appropriate system train on which to conduct their work.[wcm_restrict plans=”41233, 25542, 25653″]

Color coding provides one simple method of visually linking work instructions with equipment so to help prevent wrong-train events. Employing this tool involves the alignment of equipment, environment, and procedure coloring such that individuals performing work would readily identify obvious mismatches prior to operating the wrong equipment.


Employment of the color coding human error reduction tool is most effective when individuals perform work on redundant or symmetrical systems such as:

  • Alpha and Bravo fire suppression systems
  • Unit 1 and Unit 2 emergency power generators
  • Number 1, Number 2, … Number X server systems
  • Left and right headlights


To fully employ the color coding error reduction tool, an easily distinguishable primary color is applied to the following associated items:

  • Painted equipment surfaces
  • Equipment / component label surface or boarder
  • Procedure / work instruction paper
  • Area walls and floors

These matching colors serve as a visual aid to help the operator or maintainer recognize when he/she has either the wrong procedure/instruction or is about to perform work on the wrong train as indicated by a color mismatch.

Note: Observance of the color mismatch should prompt the operator/maintainer to stop their work as discussed in the StrategyDriven Human Performance Management Best Practice article, Stop When Uncertain.

Final Thought…

The color coding human error reduction tool has several applications outside of the industrial operations and maintenance setting – any time symmetry or redundancy exists. For instance, doctors performing surgery could put color coded bands on patient’s limbs so to ensure the procedure is performed on the proper side/extremity.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember plans=”41233, 25542, 25653″]

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About the Author

Nathan Ives, StrategyDriven Principal is a StrategyDriven Principal and Host of the StrategyDriven Podcast. For over twenty years, he has served as trusted advisor to executives and managers at dozens of Fortune 500 and smaller companies in the areas of management effectiveness, organizational development, and process improvement. To read Nathan’s complete biography, click here.

Human Performance Management – Behavioral Drivers

StrategyDriven Human Performance Management ArticleOrganizational outcomes evolve from management decisions and employee actions. Understanding what shapes those decisions and actions provides causal insight to why particular outcomes occur and reveals those things that can be changed in order to produce different results.[wcm_restrict plans=”25541, 25542, 25653″]

In general, the nature of all people is foundationally the same. While each of us holds different beliefs and values, our common nature motivates us to respond similarly to the stimulus around us. Human performance within an organization is commonly motivated the stimulus unique to its workplace environment; generating a unique culture and way of behaving.

Identifying the Drivers of Organizational Behavior

Regardless of the organization’s type, location, or circumstance, its members individual and collective behavior can be generally understood using a typical performance drivers framework (see Figure 1). As illustrated by the framework, behavioral drivers are cyclical in nature; reinforcing themselves over time.

StrategyDriven Human Performance Management Principle Article
Figure 1: Simplified Human Performance Model

It is often said that the ‘tone’ of the organization is set at the top. The Human Performance Model reveals why this is true. The foundation upon which all direct behavioral drivers emanate can only be established by senior executives whose authority enables them to affect the entire organization. Without this breadth of authority, only a fraction of the organization can be influenced.

Executive determined organizational vision, mission, values, and goals establishes the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the organization. Managers then translate these direction setting statements into the actionable processes (what), standards (how), and schedules (who, when, and where) the workforce will perform in order to fulfill the organization’s purpose for being. These instruments, when reinforced, directly shape the workplace environment and behaviors of all those within it. From these behaviors evolves the organization’s outcomes which inform executives and managers of adjustments to be made to their respective portions of the model in order to drive more desirable results.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember plans=”25541, 25542, 25653″]

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Additional Information

On the surface, it would appear that examination of the organization’s direction setting statements; documented processes and standards; and physical workplace environment will reveal the drivers of its members’ decisions and actions. This could not be more untrue.

Organizational documents often reflect what is deemed as ‘proper’ by society instead of being truly reflective of executive and manager intent. Identifying the real drivers of individual and collective behavior requires scrutiny into the unspoken policies – the actions – of the organizations leaders. When leader actions do not align with the written or spoken word, it is the actions that will always drive the behaviors. For additional information, read the following StrategyDriven articles:

About the Author

Nathan Ives, StrategyDriven Principal is a StrategyDriven Principal and Host of the StrategyDriven Podcast. For over twenty years, he has served as trusted advisor to executives and managers at dozens of Fortune 500 and smaller companies in the areas of management effectiveness, organizational development, and process improvement. To read Nathan’s complete biography, click here.

Debriefing as Continuous Improvement

If there was one trend in the last decade of the twentieth century that anyone would recognize as important, it would be continuous improvement. Whether it was branded the Deming Method or Six
Sigma or a host of other models, ‘continuous improvement processes’ found their way into organizations large and small and have made a major contribution to improving quality worldwide.

In an environment of instant and unpredictable change, most of these models are statistically based and unwieldy. They can bog down a company and delay actions and reactions so much that they become ends instead of means. To survive, thrive, and remain on the cutting edge, organizations must learn to adapt rapidly, which means they need feedback loops that are nearly instantaneous and a process for feeding lessons learned back into the company in near-real time. They must close the gap between what was true about the market yesterday and what the new truth is today.

[wcm_restrict]The new paradigm: Time is your enemy.

The new paradigm: Speed is everything.

When you think about it, aviation, whether military or commercial, is by necessity a culture of learning. In one flight alone we can go through three time zones, four weather fronts, and make a dozen changes in altitudes or headings.

We may take off in Greenland and land in the heat and humidity of Panama. We train and retrain on the aircraft systems, the regulations, the standards, the normal procedures and the emergency procedures.

It’s our job to get the plane down safely, whether riddled by bullets or with two dead engines snuffed out by birds over the Hudson River. So we aviators seek cultures of learning. Cultures of learning are marked by questions such as “Can I get your opinion on this?” and “What do you think about that?” and “How did you handle the problem?” In a culture of learning, we don’t believe it’s a sign of weakness to make a mistake; we think it’s a weakness to hide our mistakes. That’s what we mean by a culture of learning. In that type of culture, continuous improvement is just that – continuous.

As pilots, our DNA goes back to those romantic barnstormers that flew dangerously close to a crowd, broke all of the rules, wowed the audiences, and sported a razor-thin Rhett Butler mustache. Flying was a seat-of-the-pants business. Turn-and-burn, yank-and-bank; show me how to start the engine and get out of my way. But then we sobered up. We were forced to change. There were too many accidents, too many crashes, too many fatalities. The training intensified and basic skills such as instrument flying and navigation replaced the prerequisites of dash-and-charm as a pilot credential. Still, we had a long way to go. During World War II, the success of a mission was measured by how many people got back alive, and the debrief was largely the battle damage report. Crews were interviewed by the intelligence officers to identify new anti-aircraft emplacements or new enemy tactics, but little heed was paid to the execution of the mission, how tight the formations were flown, if the navigational waypoints were correct or if the proper landing procedures were used to penetrate thick ground fog during an instrument landing. Bone-weary pilots simply hungered for sleep and that was that.

It wasn’t until Vietnam that we started to take debriefing seriously, and that came about only because we were suffering terrible casualties in the sky. During the early part of the war we were losing one aircraft to every 3.7 enemy aircraft shot down, and at some points it was as low as 2:1. At first that might sound like a successful statistic, but in truth it was abysmal. Considering the training our pilots had and the superior jets they were flying, the kill ratio should have been much higher.

But it wasn’t. The problem was the first 10 missions. We quickly discovered that on-the-job training in real combat has tragic results. Our pilots were so overwhelmed, so Task Saturated by real combat that by the time they got up to speed, half of their buddies were gone. We had to accelerate their learning curve, get them combat-wise fast, get pilots battle hardened before they flew their first combat mission.

We went back to the basics. If our pilots were too green going into combat, then our training had to change until they were too good to be shot down during their entire tour of duty. The answer was to marry an academic approach to an intense, near-combat flight training regime followed by a rigorous analysis of the results. We were going to train our pilots to fly hard. We were going to force them to make mistakes. And then we were going to help them understand their mistakes. We were going to create a culture where there was no place to hide, where mistakes led to winning, where everything would be analyzed, a place where there were no points for second best, a place these pilots could train until they were better than their instructors. The Air Force created the Fighter Weapons School, followed by the Navy’s famous Top Gun school.

It was in these schools, born of necessity, that the debrief entered military aviation as a deadly serious tool of executional excellence. A group of pilots would be given a plan for a sortie; they’d fly it, then they’d get in a room and analyze it, and that was where the breakthroughs came. The post-flight analysis was as hard and as unforgiving and as brutally honest as it could be. First, the mission leader would restate the mission objectives and the results. Did we accomplish our mission objective? If yes, how? If no, how? Every detail of the mission would be analyzed, from the briefing, start, taxi, takeoff, route and the tactical mission, to the return to base, landing and taxi in. And we wanted to know why things occurred. Why did you stack high in the formation with the sun high on the horizon? Why did you perform a reversal instead of a ditch maneuver? Why did the #3 aircraft in our four-ship come back with 1,000 pounds less fuel than the others?

We wired the training areas and gathered telemetry so we could recreate the engagements on big screens. No one could hide; mistakes were bigger than life. We broke every minute of a mission down to its fundamental parts, until we had pilots who were deadly serious about flying and surviving.

From there, it spread. Pilots went back to their units and instituted debriefs. Missions never ended at the bar, they ended in the debriefing room. The debrief became a place where everyone could hash it out in detail, what went right, what went wrong, and what could be done about it next. It became open and honest, nameless and rankless. It was refined, tweaked and improved until how a debrief was run was as important as what the debrief covered.

Pilots got a lot better. The debrief led to continuous improvement and accelerated learning across entire squadrons and entire wings. We learned to apply strict time limits and to manage the process so information moved into the debrief quickly. In the end, our pilots started to survive their first 10 missions and the kill ratios improved six-fold, from 2:1 to 13:1. The debriefs that fighter pilots now hold are places where participants freely admit their mistakes and make absolutely sure they understand their successes. They develop lessons learned, lessons that can immediately improve existing processes and can be stored and transmitted to any other pilot, anywhere in the world, to improve their planning and execution. Debriefs dig deeply into root causes, where powerful organizational improvements can be made.

You may think you’re too small or too hierarchal to debrief; it may sound like a tall order for your company. But consider this – formal debriefing takes place in the most hierarchical institution of all, the military, where rank is quite literally worn on everyone’s shoulder or sleeve. If the military can do it, any organization can.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Authors

James MurphyJames D. ‘Murph’ Murphy, the Founder & CEO of Afterburner, Inc., has a unique and powerful mix of leadership skills in both the military and business worlds. Murph joined the U.S. Air Force where he learned to fly the F-15. He logged over 1,200 hours as an instructor pilot in the F-15 and accumulated over 3,200 hours of flight time in other high-performance aircraft. As the 116th Fighter Wing’s Chief of Training for the Georgia Air National Guard, Murph’s job was to keep 42 combat-trained fighter pilots ready to deploy worldwide within 72 hours. As a flight leader, he flew missions to Central America, Asia, Central Europe and the Middle East.

Will DukeWill Duke is Afterburner’s Director of Learning and Development. His duties include coordination of the development of intellectual property, training programs, and educational materials. He also serves as a consultant to process and continuous improvement management programs. With Co-Author James ‘Murph’ Murphy, he wrote the 2010 release The Flawless Execution Field Manual.