With so many jobs requiring detail-orientation as a specific employee skill, it's obvious that this is a highly desired character trait. While it isn't "mission critical" for every single profession, attention to detail is quite important for the majority of jobs.
Employees that pay close attention to detail don't believe that "done is better than perfect." They don't tolerate mistakes and aren't satisfied with mediocre work. In general, their work is of a higher quality than that of employees who lack basic attention to detail. These employees aren’t necessarily perfectionists, but they do care about the little things.
In our previous article "Attention to Detail Tests: Avoiding Hiring Mistakes with Pre-employment Tests," we've discussed some of the advantages of assessing potential employees' attention to detail.
These tests are valuable for screening candidates, but they fail to show how companies can improve their employees' attention to detail. Let's look at why this is such a fundamental skill and how it can be enhanced in the best interests of both the firm and the employee.
This article discusses:
- What Does Attention to Detail Really Mean?
- Is Attention to Detail Important for Every Position?
- The Value of Attention to Detail in Improving Internal Processes
- How to Test Attention to Detail
- How to Improve Attention to Detail in Employees
What Does Attention to Detail Really Mean?
People with excellent attention to detail abilities are often described as precise, careful, and conscientious. While all of these phrases mean "paying great attention to detail," meticulous can mean either the right amount of caution or excessive caution that can result in subpar performance.
An employee’s ability to be thorough and consistent when performing tasks requiring keen observation and focus is referred to as “attention to detail”. It is a vital skill that helps employees complete work-related tasks without excessive supervision. Where attention to detail is present, there is greater trust that work will be completed accurately.
In a professional context, having high attention to detail abilities refers to an employee's ability to identify inaccuracies that others would miss. Given the high need for this skill among employers, it's no surprise that many candidates claim to have "excellent attention to detail" on their resumes.
Is Attention to Detail Important for Every Position?
The Center for European Policy Studies examined over 30,000 job postings to determine the most frequent educational and formal qualification requirements, as well as cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Within the non-cognitive skills group, attention to detail was considered a sub-section of reliability.
According to research, the value of dependability and trustworthiness as skills ranges from 0-13% when compared to the rest of the non-cognitive skills, and it is highly dependent on the job role. In other words, the value of meticulous attention to detail varies greatly depending on the function.
Engineers, doctors, astronauts, and other professions that cannot afford to make mistakes require extreme attention to detail. Employees who are diligent in their work can be trusted to work on sensitive projects and assignments without risking costly errors.
Mariner 1 was launched into space by NASA in July of 1962. It was the first interplanar probe ever observed in the world. Everything was going according to plan until the probe deviated from its preset trajectory and crashed. The issue was caused by a single missing hyphen in the code. NASA lost $80 million as a result of this fatal mistake.
While few jobs have the potential of multi-million dollar loss due to a minor mistake, examples like these highlight the necessity of paying attention to the smallest details. Small errors like typos or missing punctuation marks can have serious implications. Employees may not give such little errors much thought, yet the consequences can be disastrous.
Today’s top employers are aware of these possible consequences, which is why they focus on screening for attention to detail and, later, continuous improvement of those skills.
Internal Processes Continuously Improve with Attention to Detail
A detail-oriented person is constantly working to improve their own workflow and processes, with the goal of being faster, more efficient, and producing higher-quality work. This type of person can create new internal processes and also improve existing processes to help everyone perform at a higher level. This is particularly important for startups or small companies that may lack well-defined standard operating procedures and workflows.
No matter if the company is large or small, every employee should have an attitude that allows them to resolve issues without needing to seek support from the management. Employees must take initiative to manage what they are accountable for with minimal direction. In today’s work environment, hard-to-fill job positions can result in a lack of fully staffed teams able to deal with everyday challenges that may emerge.
Management is frequently too preoccupied with the big picture to assist each individual with their questions. Proactive employees are therefore a great resource in such an environment because they can be efficient and out-of-the-box thinkers. They are also more imaginative and may be able to assist management in resolving other issues.
As successful startups can have exponential growth, their processes tend to evolve on a daily or weekly basis. The margin for error is non-existent, and if errors do happen – teams are usually quick to handle them. Although mistakes happen in both public and private sectors, what differentiates good companies from great companies is how these mistakes are addressed and rectified.
How to Test Attention to Detail
According to research, cognitive and reasoning abilities are very accurate determinants of job success and job suitability. Most jobs today demand a basic degree of thinking skills to be successful and testing new candidates for attention to detail may also reveal cognitive ability. These assessments assess candidates' ability to learn, think critically, and comprehend both simple and complicated concepts.
Applicants who perform well on these tests are likely to be quick learners who can follow a logical path to a conclusion. They're also likely to be good at defining complex challenges and coming up with a variety of solutions. This is a key factor that makes them such effective and desirable employees.
Attention to detail is a skill that is commonly tested before candidates are employed so that hiring managers can ensure that only those with the necessary skills are hired. However, because there is always room for development, the same skills can be assessed later on in applicants who have already been hired.
Pre-employment tests utilize different tasks, such as matching and filtering information, comparing statements for differences, checking the consistency of information, and more. By asking candidates to spot errors, omissions, or contradictions in the information presented, these tests gauge their detail orientation. Candidates who perform well on attention to detail tests are able to assimilate textual information and arrive at the correct answer without overlooking little nuances that might have a significant impact.
Why is Paying Attention to Detail Important?
Aside from catastrophic and costly errors, a small mistake in the workplace might jeopardize the company's and the employee's credibility. Whether internal or external communication or a project is in question, employees who are not able to produce high-quality work because they lack attention to detail cost significantly more to employ. Hiring more personnel, with the sole purpose of verifying other employees’ work, can be a waste of company resources.
Insufficient attention to detail leads to errors, confusion, missed assignments, and failed objectives, according to Katie Evans-Reber, Wonolo's head of people. She adds another important point: "For the worker, continued missed execution due to poor detail-orientation has a greater effect on their personal reputation. In a world where perception is a reality, no one wants to be thought of as the person who often drops the ball or makes mistakes."
According to Andrea Backman, chief employability officer at SEI, employees who are not detail-oriented may struggle to stay on track, fulfill deadlines, and deliver quality work. Employees may be at risk of underemployment and professional stagnation if they don't have the tools to develop attention to detail skills, she cautioned.
As a result, it may be up to employers to challenge their employees and assist them in being the best workers they can be in order to avoid harmful business mistakes.
How Can Employers Improve Attention to Detail in Employees?
Attention to detail is a skill that may be carefully developed and nurtured over time. Paying attention to minor details will become second nature to employees as they gain experience in the workplace. However, there are steps that may be taken to ensure that staff go above and beyond.
1) Make them involved
Although certain clerical jobs require difficult and repetitive work, it is helpful for employees to understand why things are done a certain way. Employees can better focus on the task at hand after they know all steps in the business process. It may take some time at first (during the training process), but ensuring that employees understand why they are doing something will pay off in the long run.
2) Avoid multitasking
Multitasking is a skill that all employees like to boast about, but it has been established that multitasking reduces a person's capacity to focus well. Working on one activity at a time is the greatest way to prioritize attention to detail and remain thorough. Make sure personnel aren't being pushed to focus on five projects at once.
3) Eliminate distractions
If employees deal with logging financial data or another task that requires close attention to detail, employers should consider eliminating distractions. This includes switching off email and messaging notifications or even turning off the phone. Although this might sound extreme, it can be extremely beneficial for detailed tasks.
4) Introduce frequent breaks
Taking advantage of breaks at intervals helps everyone maintain cognitive function so they can think clearly. Short bursts of intense focus trump prolonged attention when it comes to effectiveness. On top of that, excessive screen time affects concentration.
5) Introduce feedback
Feedback establishes a clear performance expectation. When a team member learns what they do well, their confidence grows. They're more willing to try new things, push their limits, and share what they've learned. Knowing where they need to improve allows them to enhance performance more quickly and align it with business objectives.
It is vital that applicants are tested prior to being hired by any organization, whether it’s public sector, private company or a non-profit. This ensures that the top talent can perform sensitive tasks that require top-notch attention to detail skills. After they are hired, however, those candidates can be further trained and motivated to consistently deliver high-quality work.
By being proactive and taking steps to support their staff, employers can increase their attention to detail skills and effectiveness in the workplace. Introducing feedback, frequent breaks, eliminating distractions, avoiding multitasking, and keeping employees involved creates a style of leadership that helps employees go the extra mile.
Employees who are attentive and adaptable are valuable assets to both large corporations and small businesses. In the public sector, they can stay on top of daily tasks as most of these tasks are administrative in nature. They can assist in the development and improvement of processes. They can save money, assist in the detection of potentially costly errors, and hold each other accountable for their work.
Tests that help employees understand their weaknesses can be used to determine the level of attention to detail abilities. Employees can benefit from the test results by improving their detail orientation skills, which will lead to more productive and efficient organizations.
EmployTest specializes in developing pre-employment tests for the public sector (government), companies and nonprofits - to learn more about our process, download a free sample of our attention to detail test.