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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