When A New Hire Vaporizes Ingredients Worth Hundreds of Ringgit…

Monday, 22 May 2017

...how should one react?

(Note: writing this piece is part of my "recovery" process. It's more cathartic, rather than an exploration of best practices.)

Years back I would have just lost my cool immediately, and allow my dissatisfaction to show, even if my words were not critical of the mistake. Invariably, I would feel worked up about it--but in hindsight, it was more of the disconnect between my true emotions (anger, disappointment, despair) and what I was trying to portray (calm), that was causing me stress. Focusing purely on the problems that would arise from the error, and feeling stuck with no solution, was also agitating.

Between then and now, perhaps I have experienced enough of others' mistakes to finally learn to cope better with them, and to discover more positive perspectives to adopt when faced with errors. Or I have grown older... or realised that I no longer have the energy to get as worked up over things as I did before.

Today, when I was training a new hire to make soap, she poured the most precious part of the formulation--what we call the "superfatting" portion--into the base oils. It was a small, but significant deviation from our work flow. Some soapmakers use this method of making their soap, but not us.

I didn't get upset. Instead, I noticed that I immediately went into troubleshooting mode, and explained to her what we would need to do to address the mistake, and move on from that moment. It was pleasant to observe that of myself, and there was minimal distress too.

I realised that there were a few things that I could have done better, that would have prevented this mistake from occurring:

  1. Insisted, and checked, that the new hire had read the entire Batch Manufacturing Record (BMR) from start to end, and asked for her to surface any doubts she had over the instructions, before she even started any work.
  2. Reminded her that she could ask questions of me, at any time. Even if I looked like I was engaged in other tasks (which I would be, invariably).
  3. Be more fully present during training. I left her for a few minutes to attend to some other administrative work (paying bills) when this happened. It wouldn't have, if I had been there beside her to observe her actions.

Some may say that the new hire was at fault too. Perhaps this is also true. However I would rather focus on what is definitely within my locus of control, which is my own ability as a manager / supervisor, rather than critique the new hire. This was her first time making soap, after all. I could tell that she felt quite guilty about the error anyway, so there was little to be gained from berating her any more.

I did use the incident to drive home what I already mentioned to her in an earlier training:

There is no such thing as a stupid question.

Does it bother me that I have lost a significant amount of money from this?
Yes, because cash flow is always tight around here, and we are just around the corner from payday again.

Does it anger me?

Does it erode my trust in this person?
No. It just shows me that I need to adjust my teaching methods to suit this person's way of learning.

Nobody is perfect--but everyone has the potential to improve, if only we allow ourselves (and others) to feel safe enough to work through mistakes.

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