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In 1980, a ballistic missile nearly wiped Arkansas off the map. The incident was traced to a seemingly minor accident: maintenance workers dropped a piece of equipment into the shaft of a missile silo. The equipment pierced a fuel tank, which could have ignited a nuclear disaster.

The lesson? Sometimes, the tiniest mistakes can have costly consequences. And, perhaps, “sweating the small stuff” isn’t such a bad idea.

For executives, sloppy work and a lack of attention to detail tops the list of the most annoying behaviours of co-workers, according to a survey conducted by staffing firm Accountemps.

It’s hardly surprising that shoddy work ranks ahead of missed deadlines and chronic lateness, because managers, including financial advisors, tend to be detail-oriented, according to Dianne Hunnam-Jones, Canadian president of Accountemps in Toronto.

“We want to be proud of the work we do,” Hunnam-Jones says. “The moment [errors] affect our sense of pride, it becomes the most annoying, irritating thing.”

If you want your staff to meet your expectations for producing quality work, here are a few steps you can take:

> Break down complex projects
When projects appear ambitious and daunting, it’s easy to fall into procrastination mode. The subsequent last-minute scramble to complete the assignment on time opens up plenty of room for errors, Hunnam-Jones says.

Sloppy work can be avoided if you simplify big projects, create mini-deadlines for each portion and delegate tasks so it becomes a collective effort. Walk your staff through the resources they can leverage and lay out your expectations, she says, so they understand how their work fits into the overall picture.

> Set up partnerships between co-workers
Consider pairing team members to check each other’s work. Having a “second set of eyes” can reduce the number of errors that go undetected, Hunnam-Jones says.

By establishing these partnerships, individuals don’t feel as though they are being singled out. This step might also help build mutual trust and cooperation; team members will know that the other person has a vested interest in ensuring mistakes are caught before the project is submitted.

> Discourage multitasking
Under a time crunch, team members often try to do several tasks at once. For example, Hunnam-Jones says, they might respond to emails, catch up on reports or file expenses while participating in a conference call.

When their attention shifts from one subject to another, they can miss out on glaring mistakes that wind up costing more time to correct. One way you can reduce the level of multitasking, Hunnam-Jones suggests, is to encourage staff to block out time for specific tasks.

“Give them dedicated time away from distractions and social media.”

> Establish realistic deadlines
Managers don’t always fully appreciate how much work is involved in pulling a project together, Hunnam-Jones says. Instead of unilaterally deciding on the deadline, she suggests, ask team members, “How long do you think this will take?”

From there, you can set a reasonable, attainable deadline. Staff members will feel like their input matters, Hunnam-Jones says. When you develop a culture where people feel comfortable expressing concerns, she adds, they feel “tied to the bigger picture.”

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