Something’s Always Broken
Success always has failure in it. Weak leaders pretend and fearful leaders need everything to be okay. But, nothing works perfectly.
You’re never successful without failure.
Every initiative, program, event, or project has glitches, inefficiencies, and dropped balls.
Improving and Fixing:
The downside of improving is oppression. “Isn’t it ever good enough?” However, strong cultures create environments where the pursuit of better is expected, embraced, and enjoyed.
Jeremy Kubicek, CEO of GiANT Impact, uses “curbsides.” After client appoinments, teams huddle curbside to evaluate the meeting. They discuss what worked, didn’t work, and how to improve, before they go their separate ways.
Systematic evaluation prevents
performance feedback from becoming personal.
Chris LoCurto, told me about after-event meetings when he was VP of Live Events for Dave Ramsey. He remembers the first meeting where he asked what wasn’t working. “No one said much. So, I shared what I could improve.”
“Treat people with dignity.
Don’t let people be blamed.
Focus on issues. Everyone makes mistakes.”
The second after-event meeting was a little better until someone said, “So and so did…” Chris told the team we’re not playing the blame game. We’re focusing on issues. He said, “I wanted team members to talk about their failures in front of their peers.”
“When you allow people to make mistakes
they’re free to take on more responsibility.”
Chris believes after-event meetings were pivotal to creating strong team connections. He saw team mates bring their strengths to the weaknesses of others, for example. Furthermore, authentic communication freed team members to rise up and lead.
How can leaders create environments where the pursuit of better is embraced and enjoyed rather than being oppressive?
I agree that allowing people to make mistakes invites people to take more responsibility. They learn the ways of not making mistakes. On the other side, when we expect people to do only right things, we instil fear. People try to avoid mistake and hence they make more effort to safeguard them. They fear being blamed and it eventually discourages learning. I think leaders should make environment where making mistake is not treated as an offense.Instead, people should willingly come forward to accept and ready to learn. I believe making mistake is not uncommon but repeating mistake is uncommon and should be viewed differently. Similarly, individual should celebrate failure. Why do we only celebrate failure ? What is wrong in celebrating failure where we learn to accept realities and also learn many lessons that can lead to success.
I think organizations and leaders should not look of perfection. Instead they should encourage improvement in behaviors, habits and attitudes.Leaders should create a fearless culture where people should come forward to make effort and do not worry much about mistakes. However, they should be aware that even in case they make mistake, they will not be blamed. Leaders should encourage right intention to create good culture.
We build a safety net. Within this group you are valued. So it is safe to fail. It is safe to admit ways you can improve. It is safe to suggest ways we can make a system or presentation or performance better.
The leader models this and does not waver from this intent. It is important up front to talk about and model behaviors that will have zero tolerance. Gossip, bashing new ideas, targeting a co-worker, favoritism.
It’s a tall order and takes real leadership to operate this way consistently. We are, after all, human and subject to moments of unscheduled insanity.
I have a friend who used to say ‘anything worth doing is worth doing poorly’. It communicates the idea that we can’t wait around for perfection forever. Our teams need to feel empowered to move beyond analysis and get to work. The way we handle failure in our teams really affects this. My leadership professor actually encouraged us to promote people who just failed at something. They probably leaned a lot more than the person who just succeeded at something. He talked about ‘the state of organizational grace’, an environment that forgives mistakes and empowers people to try new things.
Harrison, that is a great saying, love it! It dispells the paralyzing notion that we can’t jump till it’s all set and nothing can go wrong, which is akin to a crime agaist initiative
Love the thoughts of your leadership professor. Smart man. You sound like you have good models in youf life. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Dan, first off, I highly encourage what I have come to know as “After Action Reviews”. Its important for any organization to take the time to understand what happened and what can be improved – even if the event was a success.
The word improvement implies that we are attempting to achieve something already envisioned to be better. When reviewing “mistakes” I think it is best to phrase statements that are aligned accordingly.
Even if someone did something in error, their intentions may have been on focus with the overall goal. For example, if someone says something out of turn, the after action review may suggest a better communication strategy – who’s leading the meeting.
I recall a situation several years ago where a customer was having problems with a part. After meeting with the customer we returned to the plant to find out how and why the part was not only shipped but produced in the first place.
After some investigation, my Engineer returned with his findings that began with, “The operator”. I cut him off and asked him to rephrase his findings without assigning blame to the operator. The reason for this was simple in this case – the parts were produced automatically.
To make a long story short, we determined that the instructions for checking the part were unclear and the checking fixture was void of any means of inspection for the area of concern. Essentially, we determined that no one could adequately assess the quality of the part unless they were “in the know”.
Our “best practice” standard operating procedure required everyone to phrase problems, mistakes, errors, or concerns in such a way that we simply state the undesirable condition or behavior.
I never accepted a corrective action where the root cause or problem description / investigation included the term: “Operator Error”. This is not to say that “Operator Error” didn’t occur. The intent was to dig deeper to find out why to avoid repeating them and to make improvements: Training, Skills Assessment, Lessons Learned, and so on.
Taking people out of the problem statement will keep them in the problem solving process. Of course the same is true of improvements.
Sorry for rambling but this one struck a chord with me. Thanks for another great post.
For me there is some inter subjectivity around mistakes and failures. I would facilitate conversations around mistakes or things that could have gone better but never around personal failures.
Failures aren’t when you drop the ball, it’s when you don’t pick it back up again and try harder, practice more, get coaching and feedback
Failure potentially illicits feelings of anger shame etc. feelings are personal so even if you say it’s not personal and it’s ok you will never be able to reframe the reactions and behaviours to this word.
As leaders we should be aware of the power of the words we use and use them carefully.
Mistakes & failures are 2 different things entirely
Thanks for the post really made me think
Thanks for the article! I hope it reminds us all of our responsibility to allow the learning without stopping the creativity. If you have this environment, you’re lucky. If you don’t, you need to work to help create it.
Respect and value all,
This is a great article to prepare myself, and my team at HEART, for our upcoming theatrical production on the 13th Oct. While we will all be striving for excellence, it is silly to assume that nothing will go wrong. Importantly we need to focus on the issues at hand, rather than become caught up in petty arguments over who did what. This will help us overcome the obstacles as a united team, boost morale, and ultimately lead to a positive outcome. While focussing on the petty stuff will only bring us down as a team, hinder relationships, and delay problem solution. Thank you!
Find a way to celebrate the win and the fail by simply having each person write and submit a critique of their own performance and points to improve on. Celebrate the failures that exhibit faith or movement toward a core value or event goal but just fell short. Failures which move away from goals or values should not be celebrated.
Never satisfied, are you Dan? … I dig that about you! Great post. Here’s how we encourage BETTER.
Encourage the team to mix it up.
Embrace the concept of “Not Yet Attained”
Phillipians 3:13 – “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”
The Square Wheels are everywhere, and the Round Wheels of Today become the Square Wheels of Tomorrow. This “workplace stuff” is about “continuous continuous improvement” (concept from The Department of Redundancy Department).
IF I ask a group of 15 people in a typical organization to generate a list of Square Wheels — the things that work but that do not work smoothly — I will guarantee that I can get a list of 100 items from them. Some will be stupidly simple and easy to correct, many will be things that poor performers are doing that the good performers corrected a long time ago, some will be the rules, policies and procedures that the Top Performers generally do not follow, and others will be the interdepartmental kinds of things that need to be fixed by more senior managers.
But the Square Wheels really ARE everywhere and there are a constant stream of things that may not be “broken” but that sure do need “fixin.”
But it is also important to remember:
If we’re not getting more, better faster than they are getting more better faster, then we are getting less better or more worse.
(attributed to Tom Peters)
Have FUN out there!
Another great post Dan.
My thoughts on this post can be summed up in the following quote by Theodore Rubin:
“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”
Perhaps it’s a common false belief of our youth that tends to expect that one day we will reach a point where life does not present any problems or challenges. THEN….we can be happy. Once we can accept that problems or ‘challenges’ are simply a natural part of this thing called life, we don’t have to invest so much time striving to be ‘problem-free’. Which is futile. haha It’s just not going to happen while living on this earth.
So as you already know, it’s not that we HAVE problems, it’s what we choose to do with problems when they arise. HOW are we going to meet the challenge? WHAT is our opportunity here?
I’ll close with another quote I like:
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” (and her)
— Viktor Frankl
Man’s Search for Meaning
Thanks again Dan.
Dan, for me it started with one-on-one meetings. I am a broken record this week. Sorry.
This let me team know they could be open with ME first about their problems, fears, shortcomings, etc. Then the progressed to sharing with the team. Not saying it can’t be done another way, but it never has for me.
When I led a small team as part of Dave Ramsey’s web development crew, I pushed hard for us to add a “Lessons Learned” section to our team-wide (50 or so people) weekly meetings. At first, it was a little rough. Some of the other team leaders were concerned about feelings being hurt or blamestorming.
I was so proud of my little team because we did our best to lead by example. Also, it didn’t hurt that we made a LOT of mistakes so we had a lot of content to work with. 🙂
After a couple months, it became a truly valuable part of our meeting with people from all the other teams participating. Most importantly, we stopped making the same mistakes twice.
P.S. great to see a quotes from Chris LoCurto, 🙂
“Isn’t it ever good enough?” may imply, for a moment, that it was good enough, which it might have been…but not now.
The first computers were the size a huge room, wasn’t that good enough? It was then, now our phones outshine those computers by a double or triple digit factor. The belief that having done something good enough is permanent is faulty thinking.
Bottomline, entropy happens.
If looking for a belief or thinking pattern that is reliable, that might be one. It is true with people, within systems, processes, organizations, and cultures. If an organization can own that, a way to mitigate/or improve on it is by valuing constant learning, by AARs as folks have noted, by researching and seeking out best practices within your scope of work and outside your area of expertise to identify transferable best practice approaches. Valuing continuous improvement cannot be just lip service on an a periodic performance review, needs to be walked everyday by leadership.
We use nameless, rankless, debriefs on clients projects, internal projects, client meetings, internal meetings, even on simple HR interactions. We use it on everything we want to get better at.
These debriefs allows everyone to focus on how an individual role performed during the activity, and we can then capture lessons learned of good and bad things that may hav happened, so we can accelerate the experience of these who did not participate in the activity.
Great article !
No failure only feedback. There is always an opportunity to grow and develop when things have not gone as you woudl have liked them to. Green and growing is always better than stale and stagnant 🙂