When you think of "sloppy work," you might imagine tasks performed in a careless or lazy way, documents that are full of mistakes, or actions that show no regard for team goals and objectives.
"Sloppy work" can also apply to conversations and work relationships. For example, people can demonstrate a lack of attentiveness when they make careless comments to clients.
Sloppy work can damage a person's career, a team's morale, and even an organization's success. Therefore, it's important to address the bad habits of team members who regularly turn in sloppy work.
In this article, we'll look at why careless work can be so harmful, and we'll explore what you can do to help people overcome this tendency.
Diagnosing Sloppy Work
People submit sloppy work for a number of different reasons. For example, they might feel rushed for time due to procrastination or poor time management, or they might not realize the importance of double-checking their work. They might rush through tasks because they're excited to finish a project, or they may have low ambition and not care about the quality of their work. Sloppy work might also indicate that someone doesn't enjoy a particular task – or that they've "disengaged" from their job.
Sloppy work is subtly different from poor performance. People who submit substandard work might succeed in other areas, while poor performers will often fall behind in all aspects of their role.
For example, a sales professional might excel with new clients, and he may be great at closing sales. However, he may also generate sloppy reports, because he is not interested in that task.
Sloppy, inaccurate, or careless work can become obvious in several different ways, and it can cause a lot of problems. For example:
- Jan works in her organization's shipping department. She's a great team player, but she often multitasks, which means that she sometimes enters customer addresses into the database incorrectly. As a result, the company has delivered a number of shipments to the wrong location, which costs money and damages her organization's credibility.
- Abran is a financial analyst. During month-end reporting, he often forgets to double-check his calculations, which means that he doesn't correct his errors. These mistakes affect the entire organization's financial reports, and his co-workers have to spend hours reviewing data to correct them. This affects Abran's reputation and lowers the team's morale.
- Martina works in marketing. Yesterday, she finished writing the copy for a new national advertising campaign, and she submitted her work without triple-checking the layout and text. If her boss hadn't noticed her mistakes, a misspelled advert would have been published in several national trade journals, which would have been embarrassing for the company.
Sloppy work not only damages a person's career, but it can also negatively impact an entire team's morale, goals, objectives, and productivity. Careless work can cause health or safety hazards, and it can affect your organization's reputation.
This is why it's essential to address team members' sloppy or careless work.
Overcoming Sloppy Work Habits on Your Team
Use the strategies below to encourage your team members to avoid careless mistakes, build good habits, and take pride in their work.
1. Challenge Your Perceptions
Take a close look at your own perceptions before you approach a team member who you believe produces sloppy work. Are you objectively sure that her work is careless, or are your expectations unfairly high? Have you given her enough time to complete her tasks to the standard you expect? And is she performing poorly, or is her workload unrealistically heavy?
If you're a perfectionist, you're likely to expect perfection from everyone you work with. Often this is appropriate – but sometimes it isn't. Learn how to overcome maladaptive perfectionism, so that you don't set unrealistically high goals for yourself and for your team members.
2. Approach Your Team Member
There's a chance that your team member underestimates the importance of his mistakes, or he may not even be aware that he's making them.
Approach your team member privately, and tactfully mention that you've noticed a decline in the quality of his work. Give some specific examples, and ask him if there's a problem.
It's possible that your team member doesn't recognize the driving purpose of his work. When someone understands the meaning behind what they do, this can motivate them to improve. So, communicate why his work is important, and let him know who benefits from it.
Tip:Keep in mind that making a private comment about work quality may be all that you need to do to encourage this person to improve.
3. Provide Timely Feedback
Provide timely feedback after you've put these strategies into place. Use the stop – keep doing – start or situation -– behavior – impact feedback tools to communicate what your team member should do to make forward progress.
Make sure that you praise any positive changes. When you do this, you give people confidence and motivation, and this will help them to keep improving.
4. Identify Resources
If the quality of this person's work doesn't improve within a few days or weeks, your next step is to identify any training, knowledge, or skills gaps that she may have. Meet with her one-on-one to talk about her performance. What frustrations does she encounter that affect her work? What does she think is causing this problem?
When your team member is speaking, use active listening skills, so that she knows that you are paying full attention. It could be that her sloppy work habits result from external pressures or personal problems. If so, listen to what she has to say, and do what you can to help get her back on track.
Administer a training needs assessment to determine whether further training would improve the quality of her work, and identify any additional resources she needs to do the job. Have you done everything you can to support her?
Tip:As you do this, make sure that you fully understand your organization's disciplinary and performance management processes.
For legal reasons, these can sometimes be quite long-winded. If you've lost confidence in someone after having done your best to help them change, you don't want to have to go through an extensive additional disciplinary procedure, simply because you haven't followed a key process correctly.
5. Use Checklists and To-Do Lists
Encourage your team member to use checklists with routine tasks or processes, to ensure that he doesn't miss a step.
Ask him to write a To-Do List every day, so that he can stay on top of tasks (this is especially useful for people with poor time management skills). At the top of each To-Do List, ask him to write down what he wants to achieve by the end of the day. This can encourage him to stay motivated, and do his work thoroughly.
6. Pair This Person With a High Performer
Another strategy is to pair this person with a high performer, or mentor, who consistently meets your standards for quality and performance. By shadowing a mentor for several days or weeks, she will be able to see what good quality work looks like, and she will understand the benefits that come with being a top performer.
7. Use Job-Crafting Strategies
If your team member doesn't improve but you still want to retain him, you might want to reshape his current role, or transfer him to a position that's a better fit.
Look at the tasks that still do not meet your expectations. Can you move any of these to someone else? What job-crafting strategies can you apply to help him succeed in his role?
8. Create a Performance Agreement
Another approach is to create a performance agreement that defines your expectations and objectives, and that holds your team member accountable for the quality of her work. Be sure to go over the terms of any agreement with her, and make sure that she understands your expectations and goals.
9. Discipline Your Team Member
If your team member continues to produce sloppy work, take steps to discipline him appropriately. And, if he still doesn't improve, it's important that you let him go, fairly and honestly, for the sake of the rest of your team and for your organization.
Sloppy work doesn't meet your or your organization's standards for quality. It can also manifest in certain behaviors – for example, in not double-checking work, in not returning phone calls, or in making careless remarks to clients.
To encourage a team member to overcome sloppy work habits, privately let her know that the quality of her work has declined.
Find out whether she needs further assistance or resources to do the job. Encourage her to use checklists and To-Do Lists to stay on top of tasks, and consider pairing her with a top performer or mentor to motivate her to get back on track. (At the same time that you're doing this, make sure that you understand and follow your organization's performance management and disciplinary procedures.)
If none of this works, remove this person from your team.