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Growing Success From Failure

Failure gets a bad rap.

Certainly winning is much more fun, but there are certain lessons that can only be learned by falling flat on ones face.

The reality is that often we don’t learn as much from success as we do from losing.  Winning is easier to deal with and can lead to complacency.  Not that we should be rooting to lose, but rather we should find a healthy respect for it that makes losing something that isn’t’ necessarily the end of the world.

Take a moment to think about these concepts when it comes to unsuccessful situations, initiatives, or processes.  Developing strategies to be more successful next time is the key to getting the most out of a bad situation.

  1. Taking risk invigorates the organization.  Organizations that don’t take risks are headed for stagnation.  Now this is where failure comes in – they won’t all work.  The name of the game is to ensure that everyone is encouraged to think of new ideas and dream big.  That also isn’t to say that every idea will be implemented, but that’s okay too.  The real leverage you gain through risk is that it keeps folks on thier toes and makes everyone play to win.  If you have your name on the line and a big idea on the drawing board, you fight for it like no one else will.  Now risk comes in all sizes – from the “oh well, let’s pull that product off the shelves” to “Time to recalculate our quarterly earnings.”  So be smart with risk, but playing it safe is nearly as deadly for a business as too much risk.

  2. Tolerance for mistakes inspires creativity.  Nothing kills creativity quite like discipline.  If people are willing to stick their necks out and share their ideas, organizations have a duty to help nurture innovation and soften the blow of failure.  Now, if you have folks who are just flat out doing stupid stuff – you need to deal with that.  But if you have a culture of idea sharing, that should be celebrated.  Make sure that ideas are vetted properly and that there is support for new initiatives.  It is possible that along the way, a flaw will be spotted that will require some retooling.  But give your team the resources to adequately shepherd new ideas to the finish line so that they have every possibility of success.  But if there is a hiccup or failure, then so long as everyone performed competently, you can only move on to what’s next.

  3. Scale the learning beyond just the here and now.  Don’t wait too long to kill the under-performing initiatives.  Give them a chance to mature and flourish, but after a certain point, you have to pull the plug.  The same is true with ideas – make sure you hear them out and create a place where folks want to share their big thoughts, but if they flounder, they flounder.  The other piece is that as things don’t work out, learn from them.  Chances are there are lessons in execution or ideation that will scale to other portions of your organization.  Every good service recovery model has a mechanism by which learning is shared so that mistakes aren’t repeated.

  4. Move on quickly.  If something doesn’t work, once you’ve ended the program or product, move on.  Take the time to learn all you can from it, take what worked, and move it to other streams.  But don’t waste time with making folks eat it for months or years.  If you constantly refer back to the “unmitigated disaster that was the upgraded widget 3.0” then folks won’t want to share the next big idea.  No one wants to be the punchline to a running joke about the time their idea didn’t work.

  5. Embrace stupid ideas.  Sometimes dumb ideas need to be tossed in the garbage, but other times they have a fragment of something big within them.  As leaders, you have to bring ideas along far enough to ensure they have merit, but not so long that they become a time-suck on the organization.  So the trick is to be sure that everyone’s ideas are heard and that the ones that have no life span are discarded to leave more oxygen in the room for the ones with legs.

  6. Discourage Finger Pointing.  Large organization are infamous for the blame game.  You have to discourage this at all costs.  That is, with the notable exception of anything that smells like deception, cheating, or law breaking.  Those can’t be tolerated and have to be called out right away and pinned on the violator.  But if it comes down to an idea that didn’t work – its okay if collectively the team failed.  There doesn’t have to be a scapegoat – so long as everyone takes away a piece of learning that can help them be better next time.  That also doesn’t mean that as a leader, you can’t give feedback and manage performance.  If someone didn’t put in enough hours or effort you can certainly counsel them on that.  Its not meant to be discipline.  Its meant to help them up their game for next time.

So keep in mind that business (and life) is a risky proposition.  Risk of failure is around every corner, but that can’t paralyze us to risk taking and a little adventure.

The key is to embrace risk, and control it, so that we can be more innovative, focused, and successful.

And that allows us to treat every Guest like a cherished friend.


Tony Johnson -Guest Experience Leader-

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