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Habit: Good Servant, Bad Master

Habits get a bad rap, partly because people tend to talk more about the bad ones than the good ones. Truth is, habits are helpful. In fact, life without them would be a mind-crushing avalanche of relentless decision-making. How should I brush my teeth? How should I drive to work? What should I feed the dog? You get the idea.

Here’s how Gretchen Rubin puts it in her book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Once we get it started, “We can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. We take our hands off the wheel of decision, our foot off the gas of willpower, and rely on the cruise control of habits.”

Sound pretty great, right? Not so fast, Rubin cautions. There’s a dark side to habits that keeps people stuck in some patterns of behavior that are not necessarily “good” for them. And just calling them “bad habits” doesn’t really get to the heart of the dilemma.

You see, when it comes to habits – and their kissin’ cousin, processes – most people assume they simply fall into two categories – good ones we need to keep, and bad ones we need to stop. With that frame of mind, it would be natural to assume we should simply change the bad ones and leave the good ones alone. And THAT is the biggest habit hazard of all.

As Jim Collins said in Good to Great, “Good is the enemy of great.” I take it a step further and say, great is the enemy of better. That’s one of the main tenets of Rubin’s book. No matter how good or great you are, there’s ALWAYS the potential to be better than before.

Summing up her point brilliantly, she says, “Habit is a good servant, but a bad master.” Well established, proven habits and processes make life a lot smoother and more predictable – and that’s a good thing. But if you stay stuck in them without continuous reflection, assessment and adjustment – no matter how good they appear to be – you will eventually become a slave to them. Rubin puts it even more emphatically saying, “Habit makes it dangerously easy to become numb to our own existence.”

So what’s a body to do?

Since humans are creatures of habit like all other mobile life forms, the only way out of that paralyzing trap is to create a habit to break the habit of doing things over and over again the same way. It’s the only way to ensure we don’t plod along without considering options and evaluating their potential to go farther, faster, higher and be better than we’ve been before.

So ask yourself and your colleagues this question. What’s your “continuous improvement habit?” If you get blank stares when you look in their faces – or in the mirror – you better take a long hard look at Rubin’s book before you become so content with how good your habits and processes are that you eventually become obsolete.

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Want to learn more about a systemic approach to creating a habit for continuous improvement? Click here for more ideas. Then give us a call and we’ll show you how to get employees tuned in, turned on and eager to go above and beyond.

Rockin’ Your World to Happiness, Harmony and Prosperity

“Quick question. How many here support increased happiness, harmony and prosperity?” Those are the opening words from Doug Kirkpatrick in one of the most compelling TED talks I’ve ever seen.

Ready for a shocking assertion? After decades of searching and experimenting, I believe we’ve found in Doug’s company the end-all be-all, absolute superlative method for tapping the very best performance that employees are able and willing to contribute in the workplace.

Dubious, are you? Well, hang in there for 2 more minutes, and let’s see if I make a believer out of you. If I do, you’ll want to sign up right away for Doug’s appearance at Saint Louis University on Friday, May 4.

Truth be told, most organizations today are still stuck with the vestiges of a never-should-have-been model of management and leadership for any enterprise that involves independent adult human beings. That outmoded paradigm persists despite nearly 40 years of countless efforts to shed the shackles of traditional management methods dating back to the quality movement of the early 1980s.

At that time, it was becoming clear that Japan was going to eat our economic lunch if we didn’t do something about it. That’s when quality gurus like Deming, Juran and Crosby became the toast of the town in American business circles. To be sure, their contributions made a significant, lasting impact. Some companies that went all-in with system-wide quality methods achieved spectacular results.

Still, the advances and resulting successes were far from pervasive. Most organizations came away from their quality improvement programs with little to show for their considerable effort and expense. Some were left even worse off than when they started on their quality journey.

Nevertheless, diehard believers were determined to crack the code and keep the fires burning. That persistence led to a continuing series of initiatives that dot the historical landscape of here-today-gone-tomorrow management movements: quality circles … total quality management (TQM) … reengineering … employee empowerment … employee engagement … holacracy … and the latest iteration – employee experience (EX).

So here’s the truth. Whatever you call it, the name of the game is the same when you’re striving for business success through people. It comes down to a simple, significant premise – if you create an organization where employees love to work and customers love doing business … you win. The question remains – What’s the best way to do that?

Enter The Morning Star Company.

No, it’s not the well-known investment research firm. It’s a tomato processing business that began in the early 1990s in northern California. Rather than follow the TQM trend of the day, the company founders, including Doug Kirkpatrick, decided they would run the business in a radically new way – without any bosses, managers or traditional hierarchies.

Instead, they created their own unique model for self-management and shared leadership, all based on principles and practices of law like a constitution, employee contracts, adjudication boards, etc. If you’re wondering what happens to managers in companies who adopt the model, they shift to more value added work as coaches, mentors, subject matter experts, and more. But the responsibility and authority for managing the work itself always resides with the employees.

So how has it worked out for them? Within less than a decade, Morning Star went from a start-up operation to become the largest tomato processing company in the world!

Want to learn how they made it work – and how you can do it, too? Click here to sign up for the business event of the year, and get ready to rock your world! People will be talking about it for a long time to come, and it will have a lasting impact on the life of your people and your business.

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What Makes Employees Tick?

Do we really need yet another list of the 5 tips or the 7 rules or the 3 keys to “truly effective” employee engagement?  Maybe not, but the cause is vital enough to continue exploring ways to fine-tune the formula.

Part of the need to do that stems from the misguided flood of one-off activities that people cite as examples of engagement in the workplace.  Typically, they’re little more than anemic lists of do’s and don’ts that suffer from the “program trap” or “icing-on-the-cake syndrome.”

The litany of perks, plaudits, and periodic get-togethers have become so passé and predictable it’s hard not to roll your eyes at what companies say they’re doing to boost employee engagement.  We’ve all seen them – employee of the month awards, town hall meetings, lunches with the boss, performance incentives and prizes, picnics, pizza parties, fitness club memberships (to burn off the excess calories from the pizza parties) and on and on.

Far less often do you hear about essential changes being made in routine systems and processes that improve the way employees get engaged and aligned in their day-to-day work. Another missing piece is an adequate appreciation for what’s at the heart of employee behavior in the first place.

At the risk of piling onto the lexicon with another list of needs, drivers and forces for effective employee engagement and alignment, here are three interlocking pillars that get at the heart of what makes people tick in the workplace.

Connection Needs (ABC)

  • Achieve – experiencing continuous growth and accomplishment
  • Belong – being a valued part of the team
  • Contribute – making a difference to others

Driving Forces

  • Animal nature – ensuring comfort and survival
  • Human nature – nurturing imagination and freedom

 Operating System Requirements

  • Being heard and heeded – embedding a process for paying attention and respecting input
  • Clear and credible expectations – avoiding fuzzy and overly ambitious goals and directions
  • Support and resources to do what’s expected – providing what people need to succeed
  • Control over decisions and actions that affect personal wellbeing – giving people the liberty to do what they believe is right for them and others without fear of reprimand
  • Constructive accountability – employing a clearly defined process that ensures commitments are met and people are supported

Want to learn more about how we help organizations get employee tuned in, turned on and eager to go the extra mile – systematically?  Check out this 6-minute video, and then give us a call.

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A nationally recognized expert on employee engagement, Les Landes is the author of the business fable, “Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement.” Contact Les Landes at 314-664-6497 or send an e-mail.

The Truth About Baseball and Business

Baseball lore is full of “truisms” that people like to apply to business and daily life. Sometimes, though, those truisms aren’t all that true.

Take the classic myth about Babe Ruth, for example. Everyone knows about his home run prowess – he hit 714 round-trippers in his career, putting him 3rd on the all-time list. The other story that lots of folks tell is that the Babe’s all-or-nothing style also made him a leader in strikeouts. “You can’t be great unless you’re willing to put it all on the line and go down swinging” – or so some consultants like to say when they’re making a point about business people getting out of their proverbial comfort zone.

Truth is, Ruth is 122nd on the list of strikeout leaders for a career. That’s still pretty high, but far from the top. In fact, the numbers that matter most tell a different story about Ruth. His lifetime batting average is the 10th best of all time at .342, and his OPS (on-base plus slugging average) – the holy grail of baseball stats in today’s game – is 1.164, making him numero uno of all time.

Success doesn’t require strikeouts
So what does all this stuff about baseball and Babe Ruth have to do with business? It’s pretty simple. Anyone who believes you have to “strike out” a lot in order to be a top performer is an idiot.

It’s true that you need to push the limits sometimes and explore new opportunities that could put you in another “league.” And you certainly shouldn’t punish failures that come from earnest effort and calculated risks that sometimes go awry. But being a leader in business does NOT require that you also strike out a lot.

Homers don’t equate to winners
What’s more, you don’t need to hit a lot of homers to be a winner. That’s another myth. It’s a trap that takes people’s eyes off the ball of doing all the little things right – and looking constantly at how to do all the little things better.

Sure home runs are fun, they’re exciting, and they can win a game. Nothing wrong with that. But they rarely win a season. Don’t believe me? Here’s another revealing statistic. Since 1995, no team that’s won the regular season home run title has won the World Series. In fact, only four of them have even made the playoffs!

Small and better all the time
Give me a team that’s great at both “small ball” and reducing the strikeouts, and I’ll show you a consistent, long-run winner – in baseball AND in business. It starts with a mindset that the little things really do count – combined with an obsession for improvement. From there, it takes a systematic process for engaging all employees in identifying and implementing the little improvements they have control over in their day-to-day work – those small, continuous steps forward that build up over time and produce enormous collective impact.

Remember, when it comes to winning in the long run, the improvements you make every day, however small, have greater impact on results than what you do once in a while, however big.

In baseball lingo, that means focus first on making contact and getting on base. Then work on doing that better all the time. If you happen to hit a homer, that’s fine, but don’t get used to it. If you get in the habit of swinging for the fences, you’ll wind up watching your competition playing small ball in the “world series” of business while you’re sitting in the stands eating peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

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Scouting for Control

As history marks time, it hasn’t been so long ago that people thought the best way to run an organization was with an iron fist.  Workers were told what to do, and control was based on unchallenged lines of authority. There was little uncertainty about performance expectations, no room for employee opinions, and any effort to ruffle the status quo was met with swift, punishing consequences. 

The limits of authority
But even way back when, authority as a source of control had its limits.  An important lesson for today’s workforce can be learned from a notable exception to the traditional rule of control and command that embodied that long-ago bastion of order and discipline – the U.S. Cavalry.

The “production system” in those days was pretty straightforward.  The colonel was in charge of the fort, and through the chain of command, he made sure that regulations were followed and requirements were met.

For the most part, the daily work routine consisted of making the bunks, polishing the brass, cleaning the stables – and given the white man’s misguided bias at the time – getting rid of the Indians.  Measuring performance and production was just as clear-cut.  All the colonel had to do was inspect the barracks … look at the brass … smell the stables … and count the bodies on the battlefield.

Everything worked fine for the colonel until he was faced with a dilemma he couldn’t solve by simply exerting his authority – not knowing where the Indians were.  That’s when he had to count on the scout – that free-spirited guy who wore buckskins instead of uniforms, and did pretty much whatever he wanted. He just had to be ready to go when the colonel needed to track down the Indians.

When that happened, the colonel was still in charge – no one questioned his authority – but the scout was in control.  That’s because he was the only one with the information and knowledge that was required for the production system to operate.

Information as the main source of control
Fast forward about 150 years, and look at how that scenario equates to modern day management. Fact is, in today’s complex organizations, information has almost totally displaced authority as the major control system. First of all, few folks believe in absolute management rights anymore – certainly not the millennial workforce. Secondly, the nature of work has changed drastically; it’s less physical, more informational, and harder to observe and evaluate.

You could also make the case that a lot of managers are more tuned in these days to the benefits of free-thinking employees who can make sound decisions and take appropriate initiative to go beyond the boundaries of their job descriptions.

Still, you have to wonder just how far we’ve really come from the old days – and how much further we have to go to optimize employee potential. If you believe the annual Gallup surveys on employee engagement, only 30% of employees are actively engaged, about 20% are actively disengaged, and the other 50% are somewhere in between. Gallup attributes most of that shabby state of affairs to bad management.

Make scouting part of everyone’s job description
So managers, listen up.  If you want to take a big leap forward in boosting your engagement scores, here are some clues to follow:

  1. Stay out of “uniform,” but don’t pretend you’re not in charge because the buck does stop with you when it comes to your team’s performance

  2.  Encourage and support everyone on your team to operate as  both scouts and workers

  3. Listen fully and sincerely to the scouting reports you get from everyone on your team

  4.  Explain the decisions you make so your team knows you’re taking their input seriously

We can’t turn back the clock and erase the tragedy of what was done to Native Americans, and we’ll never recover what’s been lost from the crushing effects of traditional command and control that diminished the value of workers in decades past.

We can, however, take a stand for a more promising future – one that promotes human dignity, unleashes employee potential, and honors the extraordinary contributions that every individual is willing and able to make.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497. 

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With Liberty and Justice for All

In 1790, George Washington famously proclaimed, “The establishment of our new Government seemed to be the last great experiment for promoting human happiness.” The recent celebration of our country’s 241st birthday is the perfect time to spotlight a fundamental truth about human beings and the institutions that manage our collective lives: The basic principles and practices that underlie the “great experiment” known as the United States of America apply just as powerfully to a company as they do to a nation.

Nothing captures the essence of that truth more elegantly and meaningfully than the last six words of our country’s Pledge of Allegiance: “…with liberty and justice for all.”

Liberty and justice in the workplace
For all the yearning that companies profess for “out-of-the-box thinking” and “taking initiative,” the way they typically operate robs employees of personal freedom and forces them into drone-like conformity with the status quo. In most organizations, following rules and regulations gets rewarded far more often and more richly than calculated risk-taking. That’s especially true when risky actions lead to conspicuous failures – which are inevitable by definition. Where’s the justice in that? What kind of incentive does that give people to go the extra mile, to dig into the messy trial-and-error process of discovery and innovation?

If you truly want to generate the creative thinking and behavior that’s essential to excel and produce significant breakthroughs, employees need the “liberty” to use their imagination, to try new things – and the “justice” to be rewarded for the effort and the courage it takes to risk failing.

Getting an organization to operate that way as a routine part of its culture can take a long time, but here are a couple of actions you can take to start moving in the right direction.

Establish a “habit for improvement”
All habits – good, bad or indifferent – have one thing in common. They will never change unless they get replaced by another habit. If you want people to move beyond the habit of doing things the same way over and over again, you need to substitute it with a “habit for improvement.”

People need to gather on a regular basis – at least once a week – for the prime purpose of exploring ways to do things better. It’s not a one-off, when-you-get-the-urge activity, and it’s not optional. Everyone participates as a team, as a supportive community, everyone votes, every idea gets just consideration, and “rewards” come in two forms – neither of which are about money or career advancement:

  1. Showing people that their opinions count by supporting them in implementing improvements as quickly as possible without a lot of bureaucratic hassle;
  2. Mutual on-the-spot acknowledgment and appreciation for one another – no plaques, no trophies, no employee of the month awards, no bonuses, no perks – just high-fives and cheers for peers all around in the moment.

Hold a “fail fest”
It’s one thing to tell people it’s okay to fail; it’s even more powerful if you celebrate it. That’s right – toast your biggest failures on a regular basis with the same passion you would show for your greatest accomplishments. Truth is, unless you’re really lucky, most big breakthroughs are the result of what you learn from your failures – sometimes lots of them. The key is to “fail fast” and “fail forward.”

One way to build that practice into a routine is with a regular “fail fest.” Once a quarter, bring teams together to examine your most notable failures of the past 90 days. What were some big risks that offered potentially big rewards that you learned from and pointed you in a different direction toward new and improved solutions?

Then have everyone vote on the “best failure,” and pop a cork to celebrate. Better yet, shoot off some fireworks as a tribute to the company’s commitment to liberty and justice for all.

Looking for a process for how to create a “habit for improvement?” Download the brochure for the Landes & Associates Continuous Improvement System.

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Expectations and Opportunities for Improvement

Whatever else may be said about the essential benefits from effective employee engagement and alignment, few are more compelling than the value of systematic continuous improvement.  While it’s hard to argue with that premise, most organizational improvement efforts are generally a one-off activity built on a ponderous review and approval process that produces sporadic input. A far cry from anything that’s remotely systematic or continuous.

What do you expect?
The problem is pretty basic.  It boils down to expectations and opportunities.  If you ask most employees what their supervisors expect them to do, the general answer would be something like, “Doing my job in the right way at the right time.”  Rarely would you hear someone say, “Finding new ways all the time to do work better and improve the company’s performance.” Bottom line, job one is job done in most places.

So let’s say a supervisor actually did express a convincing expectation for continuous improvement. Then you have to ask how much of an opportunity do employees have to take action on it.  If the expectation isn’t supported by systemic policies and procedures, the likelihood that employees are going to get fully engaged is slim and none.

Companies like Google have gained notoriety in recent years for their “20% policy” – basically giving employees the opportunity to devote 20% of their work time – one day a week – to personal development or projects not directly related to their jobs.  While the principle is admirable, it’s not practical for most organizations to give up that much productive employee time.  (Even Google has pulled back recently from that policy.) The good news is, you don’t have to go that far to spark and support continuous improvement efforts.

Opportunity is knocking.
With far less time than 8 hours a week, both the expectation and the opportunity for continuous improvement can be given to every employee by applying the following principles and practices:

  • Encourage small ideas that everyone can contribute and manage
  • Focus employee improvement efforts mainly within their own sphere of knowledge and control
  • Give employees reasonable time away from their main jobs to work on improvements
  • Have employees own their ideas and get support where needed to get implemented
  • Hold team huddles 1-2 times per week for 15-20 minutes to introduce and discuss new ideas
  • Celebrate and acknowledge people publicly for their contribution
  • Share implemented improvements across the organization for potential replication

It comes down to making improvement a systematic process.  Like I say every chance I get, you need an intentional habit for continuous improvement to break the default habit of doing things over and over again the same way. With clear expectations and systematic opportunities, you can generate tremendous energy for continuous improvement that produces remarkable results for your business and a vibrant workplace for your team.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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The New Year’s Resolution Trap

I’ve cautioned people for years against making New Year’s resolutions. The whole mindset behind it sets people up for failure. It’s a classic example of what I call the “program trap” – a seductive snare that organizations get caught in when they implement one-off activities to try and fix systemic problems.

The diet trap
To underscore my point, I discovered some research years ago on what happens when people resolve to lose weight at the first of the year. The failure rate is astonishing – over 90%. What’s even more sobering is that within a year, more than half of the people in the study gained back MORE weight than they lost when they started the resolution. Bottom line, you can’t get there with a “diet and exercise program.” It requires SYSTEMIC changes in overall “lifestyle” – for a person or an organization – or else the likelihood of succeeding in making substantive, sustainable changes is extremely low. It can even make matters worse.

Why diets fail
I recently read a theory that explains, in part, why that happens. The brain area largely responsible for willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is located just behind the forehead. Scientists have discovered that it is in charge of keeping us focused and handling short-term memory. Asking it to “lose weight” is often asking it to do too much.

In one experiment conducted at Stanford University, several dozen students were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad. The students with the seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as the students given two digits. The reason, they theorized, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain – they were a “cognitive load” – making it harder to resist a decadent dessert.

Bottom line, willpower by itself is so weak, all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain gets overtaxed and gives in to temptation. That’s why at the organizational level, improvement efforts require supportive operating systems and processes. Without that systemic support, people’s brains get overloaded, and they can’t sustain the change efforts.

Beware of icing without the cake
Here’s an analogy to illustrate that point. Most of the one-off activities and programmatic fixes that organizations engage in are basically the equivalent of “icing on the cake.” When it comes to employee engagement, focusing on the icing leads to shallow, short-lived niceties like pizza lunches, employee of the month awards, suggestion boxes, quarterly employee meetings, and so on. The icing can be nice, but it’s the cake that matters most.

So what does the employee engagement “cake” look like?

A solid foundation of values and vision grounded in a substantive, honest assessment of the gaps between where an organization or team stands currently versus where they want to be

Managers who have a deep understanding of the credibility factors that foster employee trust

Systems, processes and policies that do three main things: 1) Show employees in no uncertain terms that their well-being is the number one priority of the organization, 2) Align and equip employees with skills and knowledge and tools they need to succeed, 3) Support the known extra effort drivers of interesting work, feeling appreciated, and being in on information and decisions
Those three critical factors are essential for building trust, and when it comes to employee engagement, trust – the belief that people will do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time – matters most.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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Companionate Love in the Workplace

The holiday season often opens employees’ hearts to a level of warmth and caring for one another not commonly seen during other times of the year. Recent research shows, though, successful companies are finding that love and compassion are powerful forces for high performance all year round.

According to a study conducted by Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill, “The more love co-workers feel at work, the more engaged they are.” They’re not talking about romantic love, of course, but what they called “companionate love” which is characterized by warmth, affection and connection rather than passion. The title of the study is ”What’s Love Got to Do With It?: The Influence of a Culture of Companionate Love in the Long-term Care Setting.

Satisfied Employees = Satisfied Customers
Here’s what they learned. Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork, and they showed up to work more often. The research also demonstrated that this type of culture related directly to client outcomes, including improved patient mood, quality of life and satisfaction.

The study offers numerous tips and guidelines on how to create a culture of caring that also produces high performance, but what’s most important are the little everyday things. According to Sigal and O’Neill, it’s “the small moments between coworkers, a warm smile, a kind note, a sympathetic ear — day after day, month after month, that help create and maintain a strong culture of companionate love and the employee satisfaction, productivity, and client satisfaction that comes with it.”

Engagement by the Book
If you’re looking for a “novel” way to create a loving, caring culture, check out an approach offered by an organization called Books @ Work. They are hired by companies to bring professors into the workplace to foster critical thinking, nurture interpersonal connection and strengthen a culture of trust, respect and inclusion through the discussion of great literature.

They work with all types of groups from front-line workers to senior managers, and the response has been extraordinary. Here are a few examples:

  • “Once you get into it in the books, and start bringing your own experience in, you start to learn about other people on a much deeper level.” (Specialty Healthcare Facility)
  • “I realized that there’s a little more depth to some of these guys than I knew before, and hopefully they thought the same thing about me. It was interesting to sit with the team and talk about our own perspectives and have a professor to bring it into focus. It brought our work group closer together, opened up lines of communication, [and] broke down barriers.” (Machinists Team)
  • “The participating shift had higher employee engagement scores on the company’s last regular survey. What it does is bring people together. I’ve seen the culture change. We are interacting with one another, we are learning something that we didn’t know.” (Manufacturing and Distribution Team)

So when it comes to employee performance and business results, what’s love got to do with it? A lot more than most people realize.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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Failing Forward

No matter how enlightened a person may be, it’s usually pretty hard to take failure or setback without some sense of loss or regret. It might even provoke anger and retribution if the failure is costly and it’s a “stupid” mistake.

Fact is though, failures are inevitable – especially if people are being encouraged to think outside the box and try new things. So rather than rake yourself or someone else over the coals when things go wrong, hardwire your team to turn trials into treasures with systematic improvement processes as a default way of operating. Better yet, stretch people and put them in a position where failure is actually expected. Better yet still, when they do fail, celebrate!

Hold a Fail Fest
Sounds crazy, right? Maybe not. In an online article written by Therese Borchard, she reports, “Every year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation holds a Fail Fest, where they celebrate a valuable lesson they learned while investing money into a loser organization that has absolutely bombed. According to this brilliant team, failure is chock-full of wisdom — one of the most effective ways to absorb key insights — so it’s best to sit down with that uncomfortable feeling for awhile and explore what went wrong.”

The core lesson? Failure is a great teacher if you keep your cool and focus on exploring what can be learned from the experience that will guide you toward a better decision and direction next time.

Go Off the Rails
In another article along the same lines, Margaret Gould Stewart tells the story of how her boss asked her what was going “off the rails” with her team. At first she panicked, thinking someone had told him about a problem she didn’t know about. She quickly gathered herself and asked calmly, “What do you mean? I don’t think anything is off the rails.”

His reply surprised her. “Well, that’s a problem,” which only added to her confusion. How could her boss think it was bad news that nothing was going wrong?

“Listen,” he said, “if there isn’t something going off the rails on your team, then I know you are micro-managing them. You are really good at what you do, and if you stay in the weeds on everything, you’ll keep things going perfectly, for a while. But eventually two things will happen. One, you will burn out. And two, you will eventually start to seriously piss off your team. So I better see some things going sideways on a fairly regular basis.”

As she tells it, her “head exploded.” It was so contrary to her view of how a manager is supposed to perform she could barely process his reaction. After talking and reflecting a while, she eventually got the value for herself, her team and the company of consciously letting things “go off the rails” once in a while as an intentional employee development practice. In addition to the growth that comes from learning from mistakes, it reduces fear of failure, and it fosters more open and honest communication, especially in dealing with problem situations.

So remember, failures and setbacks are inevitable if you’re pushing the envelope. Just make sure you have a plan for managing it and fail forward in the process.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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