At Printed Threads in Keller, TX, the laid-back El Capitan, Brett Bowden does a lot of measuring. “We track the amount of work everyone gets done each day,” he says. “We track all errors.” Why? “Mistakes happen, and we try to coach through them. Since we track the different types of errors, we see if there’s a pattern.”

For example, if there’s a misprint or mistake on a job, a Printed Thread QC (Quality control) staffer fills out a slip and turns it over to the rep managing that account. The rep then uses Google Sheets to record the job name, type of error, cost of the mistake and the person responsible.

“We keep a running tally and make sure that misprint errors don’t exceed 1% of our monthly sales”

– Brett Bowden, Printed Threads

Madeira USA, out of Gilford, NH, has a similar approach to monitoring mistakes, where process operations are metrics-driven, depending on the role. “We hold employees accountable to success metrics like customer satisfaction ratings or order fulfillment rates,” says Sam Young, vice president of marketing and sales. “We track performance so we can deliver the highest-quality service for our customers.”

And if Bowden notices that a particular press keeps logging errors because there’s not enough glue on the pallet, he knows the operator needs more training. “But look, inevitably there will be someone who isn’t good at their job,” he says. “That leads to a conversation of, ‘Maybe it’s time for you to find another company or position to make you happier.’”

Culture Is Key

Developing a good culture within your business is the key to success, because it’ll help you turn good candidates into excellent employees and help you weed out the ones that just aren’t a good fit. 68% of employees who receive accurate and consistent feedback feel fulfilled in their jobs, so a big part of that culture is making sure that there’s both room for failure and room for growth. This will help employees feel motivated and valued enough to not just learn from their mistakes, but to also help your business succeed. Here’s three steps to help you build a successful culture for your company.

1. Don’t Manage From a Place of Fear

According to Don Rheem in “Thrive by Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures,” most supervisors use fear as a way to manage their staff—a technique that’s counter-productive, especially nowadays. In May, Gallup published data showing there’s a strong relationship between employees’ attitudes toward their jobs and increases in  profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction, as well as a reduction in employee turnover.

In some cases, a manager who’s feared “keeps employees in check” for fear of being reprimanded, demoted or fired. This type of leadership only creates a culture of anxiety and mutual disrespect. “If your employees respect the shop owner and management, then they’ll enjoy working at the shop and do what they can to support and promote your business,” Bowden says.

At Madeira, Young says their culture  is rooted in their collective enthusiasm for the decorated-apparel industry, their customers and each other. “Our team really is a tight-knit group,” he says.

“We give our employees the latitude to do what’s right for our customers and the business. There’s a personal level of responsibility that we all carry.”

– Sam Young, Madeira USA

2. Accentuate the Positive

Let’s start with a sobering stat. While 58% of people trust strangers, only 42% trust their own boss, according to a Harvard Business Review survey. Threatening or punishing staff for “bad behavior” definitely contributes to that mistrust, so be sure to reward employees when they do things well. Some shop owners give out gift cards for reaching certain project milestones. Others use cash bonuses as incentives for higher productivity or zero errors. In fact, 69% of employees say they’d work harder if they felt their efforts were recognized.

Some of Printed Threads’ employees receive bonuses based on certain achievements. “Our production manager and art director earn a quarterly bonus if misprints are below a certain threshold,” Bowden says. “Our sales staff scores bonuses based on hitting sales goals.”

However, Bowden notes, money isn’t everything. “Work is hard and stressful, so have a lot of fun,” he says. Pre-pandemic, Bowden threw a quarterly party for employees and took them out once a month to a restaurant they print for. “That supports the restaurant and also gives our team a glimpse of their work out in the wild, but of course this has been harder to do lately,” he says. “ We try to just be a good place to work all around.” 

“We share our sales numbers and production stats with all of our employees. And when times are tough and sales are low, or production is rough, we share our plan on how we’ll get through it.

– Brett Bowden, Printed Threads

Communication is also a big part of earning your employees’ trust. “Shop owners and managers should step up as leaders with clear communication,” Bowden says. “We share our sales numbers and production stats with all of our employees. And when times are tough and sales are low, or production is rough, we share our plan on how we’ll get through it. Everyone wants to know that there’s a plan.”

3. Build Your System

Many shop owners who’ve created a positive culture use a documentation system. It’s important to acknowledge that mistakes happen, but these also need to be recorded and managed. If you don’t, you’re adding to an unhealthy work environment and even opening yourself up to legal issues later.

Some shops use a point system. Providing employees with points for positive actions and deducting points for mistakes,  gives you the ability to develop a good balance of positive and negative reinforcement. This helps ensure objectivity, when you’re giving feedback to your employees, and helps them to clearly understand how they’re performing.

80% of Gen Yers say they prefer on-the-spot recognition over formal reviews and 63% of Gen Zers say they want to hear timely, constructive performance feedback throughout the year. This should help you feel more than comfortable with offering feedback on a regular basis.

In the past, Tanya Doyscher, owner and graphic designer at The Visual Identity Vault, says that she’d let mistakes occur without correcting employees. “That harmed our relationships,” she says. “With open communication, we’ve got the best team we’ve ever had. We emphasize learning from mistakes so they don’t happen again. If it’s habitual, they’ll be written up and eventually exited.”

How to Address Mistakes

Before we get into how to deal directly with employee mistakes, let’s address the types of mistakes you might see. These include:

  • Divulging too much information to those outside your shop
  • Fearing speaking up about problems or issues
  • Gossiping excessively or bringing other team members down
  • Not finishing projects, especially under a deadline
  • Trying to do everything themselves and refusing to collaborate
  • Claiming to not know how to handle something (possibly because they don’t want to have to deal with the problem).

When mistakes happen , you’ll need to address them before moving on to official write-ups, demotion, suspension or even termination. To avoid awkwardness or anxiety, follow these four steps:

  • Inform the employee what they’ve done well, and try not to let positive feedback pivot into criticism.
  • Be upfront with your employee about their mistake. Don’t shame or threaten them, but be sure to let them know that consistent mistakes can’t be tolerated, and they’ll need to show progress on the issue.
  • Ask thoughtful questions to see if there’s something causing the underlying problem with your employee. If there’s a problem at home or at work you aren’t aware of, it can have an impact on their performance.. Showing this kind of understanding will also go a long way in developing trust and respect with your employees.
  • End the discussion with concrete consequences, if the behavior continues.

The Bottom Line

“There are certainly people, who at the end of the day probably don’t like me too much, but it’s hard to be a boss and best friend at the same time,” Bowden says. “That’s a very delicate balance.” 

That’s why having a system to deal with employee problems is an absolute must. By being prepared, you’re giving yourself a roadmap to handle problems when they occur. In this way, you can be objective and consistent with all of your employees, keeping great employees and quickly identifying people who might not be the right fit for your shop.

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