When Failure Comes Knocking, You Let It In

Posted: April 1, 2014 in Change, relationships
Tags: , , , , ,

RedAlert1Failure. It will happen. You don’t know when and you don’t know where. But it will happen.

It’ll be annoying and it’ll come at the worst possible moment. It’ll be unwelcome and it’ll be unexpected.

That’s OK. It happens to everyone. It needs to happen. It means you are pushing boundaries. Looking to make real change. It’s these failures and adversities that test and develop your leadership skills. It’s not whether you fail.  It’s how you react when you do. In this care it is not only about how you react but how the whole team reacts.

I’m not going to talk about how to avoid failures and do a better job. Initiatives can fail for so many reasons. Most of my posts talk about how to do it right. This is about how to succeed at failing.

It’s like being a boy scout. Be prepared.

Deal with the psychology. Prep the team. Make sure to let them know that sometimes things fail. I know it can be tricky to talk about failure with a new team that is already skeptical. The downside of not taking about it is when you fail and the skeptics get to say, “Ha, I told you so.” You need to talk about it. It just doesn’t have to be the first thing out of your mouth. Sometime after you have covered the basic concepts and goals and tactics is a good time. Instill confidence, then instill reality.

Communicate the reaction plan. Some variation of PDCA (Plan Do Check Adjust).  Avoid the message that this is our Code Red Disaster Plan. Convey the message that this is our process regardless of the degree of success or the degree of failure. If necessary, you can emphasize the Adjust part.  Progress is a continuum of adjustments, not an end point. Adjusting to failure is a part of normal operating procedure.

Focus on the education. Reacting to failure is a learning process. This is how we learn. This is how we get better. Let them know that you’ll find the right tool to react to the situation at the time. Since we don’t know how it might fail, we don’t know what tool we’ll use. That’s OK. We’ll find the right tool then. If we don’t understand the tool, we’ll figure it out. One more learning experience.

You could get clichéd and say failures are opportunities. I wouldn’t, but you could.

  1. Maxwell calls this “Failing Forward.” You are correct – that it can and will happen at some point and the magnitude of the event may vary. That does not mean, the inertia should stop. We need to Check and Act, and continue around the cycle. Every plan has a gap (the difference from where we are and wish to be as a desired state).

    Businesses or teams that have had a long success track are often hit the hardest. It can be overwhelming, humbling, and catastrophic. The key, as you mentioned is to replan and move ahead. If you do not readjust, or try the same thing expecting different results then, then failure will most likely happen again. The experiences build cohesiveness within a good team, and debug the overall project.

    There are many businesses that call a failure or weak point, “opportunities.” That is not a bad thing – it is simply looking at things optimistically. A failure, in my mind, is only when the team disbands or halts the project. If the project is feasible, and has benefits we must really press forward. It should not be will we get there – but how?

    • joegergen says:

      I hadn’t thought about it being humbling. That’s a really good point to keep in mind when managing people’s psyches.

      I think failures are opportunities for sure. Just a little leery sometimes when the word is abused.

      Thanks for the good insights.

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