On Failure

Day 222 (Or is this Day 1 now?) - Oops!
One of the things I’ve observed of organizations (including the church) is that growing and accomplishing things involves taking risk.  Taking risks will inevitably at some point result in failure.  You can’t take risks without accepting the reality that some risk-taking results in falling short of expectations, or missing what you are aiming for.

The good news is that failure doesn’t have to mean the end of risk-taking or the end of your organization.  What you do when you fail matters.  Here’s four quick things I’ve noticed successful organizations do when failing.

1. Transparency in Communication

Successful organizations don’t try to hide their failures when they happen. Successful organizations will begin communicating with their participants as soon as the failure happens and keep communicating through the process of finding a solution.  By being as transparent as possible it contributes to maintaining trust and forward momentum.

Failing will inevitably erode some trust in your organization but in the long run, clear communication and transparency about that failure will add trust because your participants/users know you won’t hide things and keep them informed when they go wrong.  People are smart.  They know that failure happens sometimes, they know that mistakes get made and nothing is perfect.  They also eventually find out when you aren’t being honest or forthright about any fails.

2. Take Ownership

Transparency in communication is one thing but it is oh so tempting to minimize how your organization appears when things fail and try to find someone or something else to blame.  Resist the temptation and take ownership for the failures on your risk.  When you take ownership you are communicating, “Hey, we know we messed up here and we’re not going to try to shirk our responsibility, yes we messed up but we’re also going to do everything we can to fix things”.  When the participants/users of your organization hear you say something like this it can lead to confidence instead of uncertainty.

One caveat:  Don’t make promises you can’t keep!  Don’t say that you’ll have this fixed right away if you still haven’t got a handle on how big of a fix you’re dealing with.  Don’t promise that everything will be the same as it was before if you don’t know what changes you’ll have to make to prevent this failure happening again.

3. Learn the lesson.

It goes without saying,  failure can be a good thing if you learn from it!  What questions are your organization asking after you fail?  What things are you putting in place so the same thing doesn’t happen again?  What does the failure reveal about the changes you need to make?

Now that you’ve learned the lesson and are applying what you’ve learned, communicate it to the participants/users of your organization.  Of course you don’t have to give them all the details but focus on the things that will indicate that you have indeed learned from the failure and that the changes you are putting in place are a good thing.

Sometimes the best thing about taking risks is that when you fail you still end up better than you were before you took the risk! (If you’ve learned from the fail)

4. Plan on No-Repeats

If you are learning from the failure then you’re well on your way to making sure it doesn’t repeat again.  Still it is worth the extra effort to make sure you don’t fail in that particular way, or in that specific area gain.  Does this mean that you take no more risks?  No, but it does mean that you won’t do things that will lead to the same fail.  Repeating the same failure results in way more damage than anything the first failure could have brought and shows that you really didn’t learn anything the first time (even if you think you did).

So there you have it.  The right way to deal with failure: Transparency in Communication, Taking Responsibility, Learn the Lesson,  and Plan for No Repeats.  What do you think of these observations?

[Creative Commons License photo credit: ktpupp]