Recalling a Recounting: Part 2 – It’s the Little Things that Count

This is Part 2 in a 2-part series on HR lessons learned from the 2016 Michigan presidential recount effort. Read Part 1 here.

Here’s how the 2016 Michigan presidential recount worked:

Two county workers sat at a table while a few public observers (generally one from each party) stood behind to watch. A county official would bring several large boxes to the table. These boxes contained the ballots cast in a particular county precinct. The county workers made sure the precinct boxes were still properly sealed from Election Day.

Then they matched the boxes’ serial numbers to the numbers written down in the poll book. A poll book is the official Election Day record for a precinct, maintained by pollworkers as voters came to the precinct and cast ballots. It includes a list of voters and the number of ballots read by the scanning machines. If the serial numbers matched between the boxes and the poll book, then the boxes could be opened.

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The workers then counted the number of ballots contained in the precinct boxes and matched that count against the poll book’s record. If those figures matched, then the workers could sort the ballots by vote choice and conduct the actual hand recount.

You might be wondering why I’ve shared so many details about the recount process on a blog about HR and training. Well, the details matter. If at any point in the above process the numbers and figures did not match, then the entire precinct was deemed “unrecountable.” This means that the ballots in the boxes for that precinct could not have been hand recounted (the original machine count stood). Election Day workers had to follow the exact details on how to sort, pack, record, and seal the precinct boxes and their contents, or there was no legal way to recount it.

More than 1/3 of Michigan precincts were deemed unrecountable because of clerical error on Election Day. The important details were not followed, and the consequences could have been significant. Imagine if the actual outcome of the election was different, but we could not know it because clerical error prevented a full audit. Ultimately, the recount was halted by state court ruling, so these problems will serve only as learning opportunities.

Why were there so many clerical errors? Many attribute it to a training deficiency. County officials presented a 2-hour, crash-course training to all pollworkers a few weeks before Election Day. Supervisors provided basic job aids on site, but it was impossible for them to stay at all the polling locations all day (there are too many polling sites and not enough county officials). Some pollworkers (temporary employees) missed the important details, especially at the end of the night when it was time to pack up.

How do you ensure that your employees follow the important details? Think about the most complex work task you’ve ever performed. What was the training like? What supported you while working through the details? How did you keep track of all the steps?

As talent development professionals, we must ensure that employees have the support they need to fully complete their designated job tasks. We must be attentive to the most complicated and difficult parts of the task or process (often asking for feedback from the people who do the work), and supply extra resources directed at those components.

Here are three ways you can ensure your employees are capable of getting the details that matter:

  1. Eliminate the “fluff” from your training programs. Focus only on content that is relevant to the job. Too much irrelevant information presented in courses can overwhelm employees and result in them missing the details later.
  1. Create job aids, particularly ones that are easily accessible and tailored to the specific task. Simple walk-throughs and charts can go a long way, and provide employees with quick-access contact information for key problem-solvers. Consider digital resources if the job/tasks support it.
  1. Evaluate your hiring, onboarding, and training processes and align them with your performance goals. Are those processes conducive to the transfer of knowledge for a complicated, detail-oriented job or process?

Don’t let the details fall through. Design your trainings, job support programs, and HR processes to support a commitment to details. Whether a failure to follow the exact process prevents vote recountability or loses a major client, the details definitely matter.



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