In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins shares some sage words: “We will never give up. We will never capitulate. It might take a long time, but we will find a way to prevail.” What Collins is talking about is the drive to always be moving forward. Too many businesses get caught in cycles of lateral movement, letting the status quo or perceived failures keep them from pressing ahead. Such cycles are often caused by an unwillingness to address failure; poke at it, examine it, confront it, and learn from it.
Collins talks about this in a chapter called “Confronting the Brutal Facts.” As he points out, companies are driven forward by positive change. When failures arise, the natural instinct is to shove them under the rug, pretend they didn’t happen, or blame shift. This is the wrong course of action. Failures should be viewed as opportunities – a chance to reassess a company’s actions, the way it manages its operations and its people, to figure out what went wrong and how to make it right. Failure is a chance for growth.
Collins outlines four steps for confronting failure head on and invoking positive change. He suggests:
- Leading with questions, not answers. A top-down mentality of problem solving is almost never the most effective method. Even when everything seems to be running smoothly, the paradigm of executives coming into meetings with more answers than questions will lead to resentment and quashed voices. Open ended questions like “What could we be doing better?” and “How can we improve efficiency?” allow team members to bring more to the table and minimize failures before they happen.
- Engaging in dialogue and debate, not coercion. Your employees need to be able to speak truth to power. If you decide to implement a policy that your team knows will fail, they need to feel confident stating their case without fear of repercussions. The key here is creating an environment where disagreement isn’t stifled, it’s encouraged.
- Conducting autopsies without blame. Hospitals have a process wherein doctors meet on a regular basis to discuss all of their patients who ultimately died. They discuss each case, talk about what happened, what went wrong, and what they might have done differently. It’s a chance not to throw blame, but to learn from one another’s experiences and, sometimes, their mistakes. Businesses need similar processes, wherein mistakes and failures can be discussed, examined and learned from without casting blame or shaming one another. Learning from professional failures, your own and your employees, is an essential part of moving forward and doing better.
- Building in “red flag” mechanisms. The first key of learning from failures is catching them early. When your team is on a path toward achieving professional goals, the sooner you can determine that you’re going off course, the sooner you can recalibrate and get where you’re going. Building red flag metrics into your processes will help you keep a closer eye on your progress at every step.