In both life and business, people abhor failure. Business people run from it and spend millions of dollars to avoid it. Instead of attempting the impossible, avoiding failure; people should embrace the occasional failure. Failing brings with it benefits that have never been seen before. Right now, I am sure the majority of readers disagree with me, that’s OK. Let me ask, how much good came out of Columbus’ failure to make it around the horn of Africa in 1492? How much innovation came as a result of the successful failure of Apollo 13?
Before going further there are two types of failure that I must address as completely unacceptable. The first is failure due to lack of effort, this should never be tolerated in any case. I always stress that people hold themselves, their employees, and even their over-bosses to the same standard of effort. Companies that incorporate this standard into their culture are on the whole, substantially more successful than organizations that do not. I know of someone who recently bought a small business, not knowing exactly what they were getting into, they immediately announced that unlike the previous owner, they would not be working weekends. What example does this set? What do you think?
The second failure that cannot be tolerated is a lack of proper planning. In the arena of large businesses, this is indicative of poor foresight from the beginning. This is usually systemic from the bottom to the upper echelons of management within an organization. While most large companies (publicly traded) can cover for this lack of efficiency and increase in costs, small businesses cannot. At the small business level, a failure due to poor planning can lead to the end of a company. Too often I see people who come up with an idea, and then make a plan; only to abandon their previous work and move onto something else the first second they encounter resistance. The idea should be followed through to completion. The benefits of what you will learn from not reaching your desired goal far outweigh the costs and time spent on going back to the drawing board and reinvesting in new ideas. What I described in that last sentence is proper failure, it teaches you what not to do again, and lessons are learned from it.
Beyond teaching us what not to do, failing properly leaves us with innovative ideas and the motivation to use them. In my early years of operations management, I failed often. I learned as I went along, and was fortunate to have a manager above me who gave me the necessary slack to go out and learn for myself by making mistakes. Too often I see managers that micromanage with do as I say not as I do policies. To describe this as poor management would be an understatement. I note however, that these managers are often young in age and are in their position because they “knew someone” or had a degree that has nothing to do with the position they hold. This is why when asked about the potential of an employee, I stress successful experience over GPA and degree; I wish more did the same. Fortunately if any of my readers are currently under this type of manager, be patient. Managers using this ineffective style are often removed and replaced; perhaps you can take their job.
People learn by taking chances and making mistakes; professionally and within reason employees and lower supervisors should be given the same leeway to do the same. Do not be afraid of the risk. By taking an operational risk, gains in efficiency and cost reductions can be made that were never before seen. I have been hired by corporations in the past to find those improvements. After working with the lower level employees to learn the operation, I implement changes that I believe will be successful based on my prior experience. Over time I have developed a process for doing so and it has been successful across businesses of all sizes. If you feel that can be of help to your business, feel free to contact me.
WHAT IF THE CHANGES DO NOT WORK YOU ASK?
If the changes implemented as I described in the previous paragraph are ineffective, there are still gains to be made. Firstly, this gives an evaluator like myself, the ability to determine which employees are just there for a job and which are company men and women. There should be an effort by upper management to retain these “company people” whenever possible.
Lastly, to the experienced upper management professionals; remember that failures should not be shunned. When handled constructively, failure can bring teams together and shed new light on operational procedures that may look great from upper management, but may not be so great in reality. Listen to your employees and lower team leaders, they do it every day, in this case, yes they do know better. In my very first foray into management, I was told by a boss, “These are the new operational procedures and equipment, and this is how they are to be used”. After one week I made my case, as the end user it was obvious to me that there were glaring inefficiencies, I was told to work and keep quiet. Three weeks later, changes were made that I had suggested, I was given no credit, but my job was made easier; a silent victory. Perhaps if you are in this situation, give a lower team leader a chance at solving the problem, you may be surprised with the results; and find a future member of upper management.
We are humans, creatures that use their God given senses and talents to learn, most of us learn by doing. As people, we all fail in one form or another. As long as we learn from it and do not exactly repeat the process that led to the first failure, all is well. On average, an employee that is given the opportunity to attempt and fail will in my experience, become a faster and more efficient employee. They will also hold a higher level of respect for their supervision.