Edited by Markus Reihlen and Andreas Werr
Chapter 3: Dealing with errors in professional service firms
It is unlikely for employees to commit no errors. This can be ascribed to human characteristics such as opportunistic behavior and limited skills and knowledge, as well as to latent conditions within organizations (Reason, 1990). Organizations are therefore forced to deal with errors in order to reduce potentially negative outcomes. Effective error management involves minimizing the negative potential of errors (e.g. van Dyck, Frese, Baer, & Sonnentag, 2005) and deriving positive effects such as learning (Argyris, 1976, 1993; Edmondson, 1999; Festner et al., 2005; Gartmeier, Bauer, Gruber, & Heid, 2008; Nordstrom, Wendland, & Williams, 1998). The literature identifies several constituents of effective error management, including quick error detection, communication about errors, sharing of error knowledge, and quick error handling (van Dyck et al., 2005). For analytical reasons, these aspects of effective error management are often discussed separately in the literature. Nevertheless, the literature on learning from errors (Bauer, 2008: 33) and error management (van Dyck et al., 2005) indicates that successful error management should be understood as a process whose starting point is closely related to the detection of errors (Figure 3.1). In particular, error handling, error detection, and communication about errors are regarded as the hallmarks of effective error management (van Dyck et al., 2005). Error handling is related to damage control, which directly affects profit and important mediators like reputation, while error detection and communication are closely related to organizational learning, an important mediator of firms’ performance. The creation and distribution of knowledge about errors is also believed to influence a firm’s performance. Van Dyck et al. (2005), for instance, found a substantial correlation between effective error management and organizational performance. Similarly, Cannon and Edmondson (2001) revealed that work groups in which errors are communicated and discussed perform better than groups in which errors lead to blaming.
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