No MBA mumbo-jumbo, just stuff that's worked through 30 years of team-building in business and the military.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Embracing Failure

There's something you need to know about failure: If you're doing your job right you're going to deal with a lot of it.

The only way people learn is to try for themselves. And if you truly let them try, they will fail several times on the way to success. Think of anything you've ever learned -- riding a bike, decorating a room, negotiating a contract, engaging a target with an M16. In every case you didn't really start to learn until you tried it yourself. And in every case, your first few attempts weren't very effective.

The same is true of your team. If you want them to be better than they are today, if you ever want to be able to delegate some of those things only you can do now, you have to let them try. That means you'll see a lot of failures.

Here's how you can let them fail without hurting your organization:
 - Minimize the outcomes by starting small. Let their first attempt be with a one-time customer, or let them practice on discarded stock. Let them drive the forklift around the parking lot before taking them between the racks.
- Put safety nets in place. Assume failure, and have your reactions already thought out. Have spill clean-up kits nearby, maybe forewarn a customer or get him to partner with you in the process.
- Monitor closely, so that you not only detect the failure as soon as it happens. You also know precisely what caused it, so you can teach. That's the idea of "failing forward;" making sure failure brings you closer to the goal.

"Failing forward" is healthy for an organization, and shouldn't bring any negatives for the employee. That's different than failures that are just negligent or accidental and therefore are wasteful. But in the context of learning, which should be a constant process, failure is a key part. Expect it, plan for it, make it safe.

No comments:

Post a Comment