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The Necessity of Error Management Training in the Hospitality Industry

Priyanko Guchait | 10 minute read

Originally published on the Boston Hospitality Review

We’re excited to share to feature a white paper on error management training from Priyanko Guchait, an accomplished professor at the University of Houston. Most recently, Priyanko received the 2018 Best Paper Award from the Western Federation Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education. Below is a lightly edited and abridged version of his paper “The Necessity of Error Management Training in the Hospitality Industry.” The paper first ran in the Boston Hospitality Review. Follow the link to read the paper in its full academic glory, or download it as a PDF.

Mistakes and errors come in all shapes and sizes. 

For instance, in 2015, a number of major hotel corporations fell victim to cyber breaches. The Hyatt Hotels Corporation payment processing system was breached, affecting hundreds of hotels in dozens of countries. Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. also had data security snafus. The restaurant segment of the hospitality industry (Chipotle Mexican Grill, notably) experienced outbreaks, including Norovirus, E. coli, and Salmonella Newport, that sickened hundreds.

While these negative incidents sound extreme, they’re often the result of ignoring minor mistakes and earlier errors. What’s more damaging is that such errors and mistakes are not always reported or documented, and thus no preventative measures are taken.

As a result, over time, these problems become bigger and bigger, leading to critical incidents with extreme negative consequences. While these more critical incidents make news and tarnish the reputation and business of the companies, there are many other seemingly smaller mistakes and errors that occur in the hospitality industry — such as overbooking, dirty rooms, incorrect reservations, incorrect billing, among others.

If these problems aren’t managed, these small mistakes and errors will become more critical and damage the company’s good name or ruin the company’s business.

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The Need for Error Management Practices

Hospitality organizations are faced with the possibility of errors, mistakes, and failures every day. The negative consequences these can produce include stress, accidents, loss of time, faulty products, quality and performance problems, negative word-of-mouth, customer dissatisfaction, increased costs, and loss of revenue.

Since it’s the duty of managers and owners to protect the profit margin, taking a proactive approach to mitigate these mistakes and errors is often attempted through the use of sophisticated technologies, rigid systems, and strict policies focused on controlling employee behavior. The truth, however, is that total elimination of errors is impossible, and it’s difficult to predict what and when specific errors will occur. Error results from physiological and psychological limitations of humans.

In hospitality organizations, errors often occur because of the very nature of the work (high workload, time pressure, fatigue, poor interpersonal communications, imperfect information processing, and flawed decision-making). Errors may also occur due to equipment malfunction and through no fault of an individual. But still the individual may be responsible for resolving the error. Errors can also happen anywhere in a hospitality organization, with external errors involving customers — both front of house (e.g. checking guests into rooms that are not cleaned), back of house (housekeepers forget to report items that need repairs) — and internal errors involving employees, managers, and departments (incorrect accounts billings and payments, or scheduling errors resulting in inferior customer service).

Therefore, it’s important that hospitality organizations not only focus on error avoidance, but also on error management. In other words, management and owners need to start asking “What needs to be done after an error occurs?”.

Error management is an approach that attempts to deal with errors and their consequences after an error has occurred. It’s essential that organizations, managers, and employees develop a mindset that — even after meticulous planning and training — things can still go wrong. People need to be prepared to contain and resolve the problem, to continue providing guests the best service, and to learn how unexpected events can cause errors.

Minimizing Negative Consequences; Increasing the Positive

Error management is both error prevention and error containment. It focuses on minimizing the negative consequences of errors by early detection and quick error correction, in addition to analyzing the causes so as to prevent similar errors in the future.

Open communication is critical to error management practice. It allows for the development of shared understanding about errors, potential error situations, and effective error handling strategies. Many quality-award winners such as Ritz-Carlton use error management strategies — first, they make efforts to identify the errors (service failures) and then resolve the customer problems (service recovery). Next, they use error data to make decisions on process improvements to increase customer satisfaction in the future.

Therefore error management is crucial for any successful operation, as it focuses on decreasing negative consequences (e.g. time loss; customer dissatisfaction) and increasing positive consequences (e.g. learning and innovation). The goal of error management is for employees to exhibit positive behaviors to handle the situation, rather than panic, stress, blame others, or freeze. This way employees can correct errors quickly and effectively, learn from the situation, seek feedback, share information so others can learn, and anticipate errors to handle them proactively in the future.

While error management has proven to be prevalent and useful in aviation, manufacturing, and medicine, it also has a notable potential positive impact in the hospitality industry. Research has demonstrated that error management practices influence organizational performance positively, irrespective of industry. It also affects employee outcomes, such as reducing job stress, increasing service recovery performance, exhibiting more helpful behaviors, increasing engagement and creativity, and lessening turnover intentions in the lodging and food-services contexts/industry.

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Advocating for Error Management Training

Conventional training usually focuses on teaching the correct way to perform skills during training. Traditionally, scholars and practitioners have focused on two types of training based on a negative perception toward errors, which are considered consequences of poor analysis, design, and lack of prerequisite behavior.

The first type is errorless training. Errors are not mentioned in the errorless training process because it’s believed that error isn’t a necessary step in the learning process. Instead, the training focus is to have employees strictly follow the rules. Information regarding how to handle any potential error isn’t mentioned in the training process. In other words, the trainees are not exposed to any error-related elements — as if errors didn’t exist in the workplace.

The second type of training is error avoidance training, which is designed to prevent errors from occurring. Participants are not informed about the positive functions of errors. Trainees are encouraged to avoid making errors during the training process. Step-by-step instructions are provided to guide trainees to learn in an error-avoidant manner.

In both these training types, errors are framed as indicators of failure and lack of competence. Since errors are interpreted as having a negative effect on learning, it leads to self-doubt, dissatisfaction, stress, and frustration among employees.

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Deal with Errors Instead of Avoiding Them

Researchers have recently become interested in investigating the effectiveness of error management training (EMT). This training type considers errors to be a natural by-product of active learning and recognizes the potentially positive functions of errors. EMT acknowledges that workers will invariably commit errors for a variety of reasons. Errors are inevitable in the hospitality industry and often service providers don’t know how to manage the error once it occurs.

Error management training prepares employees to anticipate errors and take preventive measures proactively to stop them from happening. Employees prepared to manage and resolve errors effectively and efficiently. According to EMT principles, training programs shouldn’t be designed to restrict error occurrence, but rather should incorporate errors and train for them. EMT is predicated on the assumption that trainees should learn how to deal with errors rather than to avoid them.

The goal of EMT is to help trainees redefine errors as learning opportunities for which emotional and cognitive coping strategies are available. Errors are reframed as beneficial occurrences rather than stressful calamities. Errors are especially important in the training and learning process in that errors can have an informative function for the learner: they pinpoint where knowledge and skills need further improvement.

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Learn Fast and Break Things

The central premise of EMT is that learning complex cognitive skills is best accomplished in environments where trainees can actively engage in exploration, problem-solving, hypothesis testing, making mistakes, and learn to recover from mistakes. EMT is likely to increase employee knowledge and, by attending to errors and learning error management techniques, trainees are likely to have a deeper understanding of the job, process, and task knowledge than would otherwise be possible. Increased knowledge and understanding may reduce the risk of committing similar errors in the future.

Error management training leads to transfer performances. Transfer implies that knowledge, skills, and attitudes are transferred from one task to another. Two types of transfer can be distinguished: (a) analogical transfer, which refers to problem solutions that are familiar or analogous; and (b) adaptive transfer, which entails using one’s existing knowledge to change a learned procedure or to generate a solution to a completely new problem.

From a practical perspective, adaptive transfer is more relevant in the hospitality industry because of the characteristics of service products and because errors are inevitable. For example, not all guest complaints in a hotel can be covered during orientation. Employees will inevitably encounter unexpected problems while dealing with guest complaints and, in contrast to the controlled training situation, employees might not have in-the-moment assistance. Therefore, employees are more likely to come up with unique solutions to unique problems and be more prepared to handle difficult situations.

Error Training Engages Employees

Scholars have noted three processes through which EMT can impact performance: emotional, cognitive, and motivational. Researchers found empirical support for the notion that EMT increases employees’ tendencies to use two self-regulatory skills: exerting “emotion control” to reduce negative emotional reactions to errors and setbacks, and engaging in activities that involve planning, monitoring, and evaluating one’s progress during task completion and revision of strategies. Such activities are instigated because errors prompt learners to stop and think about the causes of the error and to experiment with different solutions. Finally, EMT creates a mindset of acceptance of errors (high error tolerance) which can help increase employee motivation.

Compared to employees who receive errorless or error avoidance training, employees who receive EMT demonstrate high task and recovery performances because these employees are more likely to: (a) control negative emotions after failures/errors/mistakes and stay focused on the task (emotional process); (b) understand sources and causes of failures and come up with new solutions and improved procedures (cognitive process); and (c) be intrinsically motivated to deliver superior task and recovery performances (motivational process).

Employees who undergo EMT are more likely to demonstrate increased knowledge, better task and recovery performances, and enhanced motivation and moods compared to traditional training methods.

Lessons for hospitality leaders

Managers and trainers need to note some characteristics of EMT. Error management training aims to improve transfer performance, not training performance. In fact, training performance may be worse in error management training in terms of error rate, efficiency, or training time because participants are not directly guided to correct solutions. Instead, employees experiment, explore, make errors, and sometimes arrive at the wrong solution. Managers must hold a more positive view towards errors during the training process.

Finally, when assessing training effectiveness, managers should not only focus on evaluation at the end of training, but also how the training results have been applied to the work setting in the future. Compared to errorless and error avoidance training methods, which concentrate on the problem solutions that are analogous to training process, error management training focuses on generating new solutions to unexpected problems.

BY PRIYANKO GUCHAIT, PHD

Priyanko Guchait, PhD. is a tenured Associate Professor in the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at University of Houston. 

Key References
Frese, M., & Altmann, A. (1989). The treatment of errors in learning and training. In L. Bainbridge & S.A. Ruiz Quintanill (Ed.), Developing Skills in Information Technology. (pp. 65-87). New York: Wiley.
Frese, M., Brodbeck, F., Heinbokel, T., Mooser, C., Scheiffenbaxim, E., & Thiemann, P. (1991). Errors in training computer skills: On the positive function of errors. Human Computer Interaction, 6, 77-93.
Frese, M., & Keith, N. (2015). Action errors, error management, and learning in organizations. Annual review of psychology, 66, 661-687.
Guchait, P., Neal, J., & Simons, T. (2016). Reducing food safety errors in the United States: Leader behavioral integrity for food safety, error reporting, and error management. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 59, 11-18.
Keith, N., & Frese, M. (2005). Self-regulation in error management training: Emotion control and metacognition as mediators of performance effects. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 677–691.
Nordstrom, C. R., Wendland, D., & Williams, K. B. (1998). “Tor err is human”: An examination of the effectiveness of error management training. Journal of Business and Psychology, 12, 269-282.
Guchait, P., Simons, T., & Pasamehmetoglu, A. (2016). Error Recovery Performance: The Impact of Leader Behavioral Integrity and Job Satisfaction. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 57, 150-161.
Van Dyck, C., M. Frese, M. Baer, & S Sonnentag. (2005). Organizational error management culture and its impact on performance: A two-study replication. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 1228-1240.