Failure or Learning Point? It’s About Action Rather Than Reaction

In last week’s blog we talked about what if it goes right? as so often we plan for failure; perhaps we could be generous and call it having a contingency or understanding our options as opposed to allowing ourselves to fully explore what if something goes well and just as planned …

rather than reacting, take action to minimise the risk of it happening again

rather than reacting, take action to minimise the risk of it happening again


And thats still very valid as we do – as humans yet alone business people – tend to err towards the negative rather than the positive on many an occasion for varying reasons. The reality is that sometimes things don’t always go according to plan and when that happens, how do we manage the situation and the people? Or should that be how do we support the people to manage the situation?

I’m guessing that very often if something does fail, for whatever reason, then there’s a tendency to want to take control over the situation and perhaps to micro manage whatever repairs and remedies are put in place both for the problem and to ensure that it doesn’t recur in the future.

But is that really the best way to handle the situation? And what message does it send to the people on the team and in the business? Yes, there are situations that need a quick action – that’s action not reaction – and clear guidance but wouldn’t it be better to be offering support and guidance and helping those who were involved in the situation rather than taking over? Taking over, or taking away from that person or team, is a reaction and not an action.

Thinking back to my corporate life, I started out as being a person who would react and changed into a person who acted. Apart from the fact that there were many calls on my time and so taking on something that had failed would add to that – I realised that a far better result for everyone would be if the person/team who made the mistake, or were involved in the perceived or actual failure, were supported to turn it around and make the corrections at all levels. The outcome was far better for the team, the department, the organisation as a whole and the client – whether that was an internal or external client.

Admittedly there could be a case of clear incompetence or wilful neglect and that needs to be treated in a different way. But where there has been a failure to comply, to deliver and so on, then wouldn’t you agree that in part the failure is a reflection on the whole team and the support each individual had?

So how do you review the failures and what measures are in place for any deliverables? When a failure occurs I would encourage you to consider how much contact was there with the person and or team to ensure that the brief is fully understood, what was done to ensure there were no conflicting deadlines or pressures and who was going to monitor them. Were the required resources made available, including ensuring the appropriate level of skills and knowledge were in place and were there regular updates on progress and regular check-ins with the client if appropriate? If instructions had been received from a client, had these changed and were they fully understood by all? Were procedures in place and were these followed?

You see, for me, it’s not just one person or a team that has failed, its the whole structure of the organisation and the leader. Ultimately the leader is accountable and there’s no greater example of that than the resignation of the Director General of the BBC recently. If the leader of the business is accountable then they too have failed the business and the people in some way. That of course doesn’t and shouldn’t take away the personal accountability of the individuals as people and in their roles.

So if there are some failures experienced in the business then learn from them as a business as well as individuals. Act and not react, so that the people know they are supported not in achieving a failure per se, but in putting in place the repairs and remedies to correct what has failed and put in place the changes – whatever they might be – to minimise such a failure recurring in the future.

Reaction will not engender that, it makes individuals feel even more of a failure, impacts on their self-worth, self-belief and confidence and their understanding of how you perceive them. Yes, its essentially a whole load of personal thinking thats going on and sometimes it’s valid but often times it’s not. And whilst all those non-conversations are taking part in their thinking they wont be 100% concentrating on the issue and the resolution and in part they won’t really have the clear head space for it. I’m sure there are times in your own career where that resonates for you too.

Action – rather than reaction – will re-engage, allow collaborative thinking and activity, give a greater chance to a sustainable resolution and learning for all.

So failure is really a learning point for all: for the people who didn’t achieve whatever it was, the people supporting them and in some cases the people they were delivering to, as they too may have played a part in the lack of success.

If you’d like to talk to me about anything I’ve written here, call me on +44 (0) 1296 681094, click here to ping over an email or leave me a comment below.

Until next time …

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