How to Prepare for 7 Dangerous Failures
Everyone who focuses on failure becomes negative, unless they do something about it.
Successful leaders ask, “What could go wrong?”
The most successful leaders fail successfully. But, leaders who don’t prepare for failure, end up failing.
Do something where failure matters.
7 dangerous failures:
- Disconnection. Over time you become disconnected with high performers. You don’t worry about them.
- The failure of the person/team you trust the most hurts the most.
- Reject arrogance that makes assumptions about performance.
- Stop into meetings or offices for impromptu encouragement or debriefs. Ask, “What’s next,” or, “How can I help?”
- Complexity. Complexity is always a failure point.
- Simplicity is about elimination. How might you eliminate or combine steps.
- Break complexity into bite size pieces.
- Work on simplifying. The path to complexity is the path of least resistance. Push against things like, we’ve always done it this way or we can handle it.
- New or inexperienced teammates.
- Fail where it matters less.
- Trust talent to rise up. Don’t hand-hold too long. Acceptable levels of stress result in high performance. But, too much stress makes people shut down.
- Use mentors and training.
- Timing. When sequence and timing are essential to success…
- Provide lead time.
- Focus training on performing under time pressure.
- Prepare and practice timing until it’s second nature.
- New procedures, systems, or products.
- Assume things will go wrong.
- Run pilot programs.
- Backup. Avoid single points of failure.
- Create contingency plans. What happens when technology fails?
- High profile projects. When your work is highly visible, protect against every possible failure.
- Clarify goals and expectations with higher-ups.
- Communicate the priority of excellence. “I’m counting on everyone to bring their ‘A’ game.” Don’t come off as desperate.
- Practice and create contingency plans. Know what to do when something goes wrong?
What failure point do you need to prepare for today? What will you do?
How might leaders prepare for failure without becoming negative?
“You need to think about what may go wrong (fail) and then plan to stay out ahead of it..” my boss would say frequently. I found it worked well and allowed (at least) two significant things: 1. It pushed things toward tangible resources rather than human resources – in other words keep three extra widgets on hand when widgets are a critical delivery item, rather that create a crisis of forcing a person to interrupt their work flow to fill an emergency.
2. When the crisis/emergency did occur we had time in the schedule to deal with it in a non-panic way.
In your terms we made foreseeable failures part of our routine.
Thanks Ken. I was looking for a good phrase and you gave it to me. “Forseeable failures” That captures it.
You also make me think about the dangers of over-optimism. It’s the form of optimism that pretends everything is great and will work out effortlessly.
Plan around the process. Look for problems and solve them. Build in contingency. Understand the hard limits of what you can do.
Realise you WILL fail at some time. If your failure is that the advertising strategy wasn’t a success, the new soft drink didn’t become an overnight sensation or your latest tech gimmick was a bust, be glad. Nobody died, was maimed, wrongly imprisoned or got away with a heinous crime. That’s when failure matters.
Thanks Mitch. “Understand the hard limits of what you can do.” That speaks to me. 🙂
“Complexity is always a failure point.” As a technology guy, this is truth. Oh, how many systems we retain because we do not understand sunk costs, and say, “Well, it isn’t broken, so why fix it?” It takes resolute leadership to transition to systems that are infinitely more powerful and simple, yet require less human and financial capital to maintain.
Thanks Jody. It feels like the devil you have is better than the devil you don’t know. 🙂 Thats an invitation to stay the same.
Failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing all of the time. What failure really means is that you’ve discovered one more of the ways in which to not do something and so you are indeed closer to achieving your dreams. But I don’t suggest anybody seeks out failure, to me the biggest failure is that of those who refuse to engage and try, those who are so afraid, that the chance of success is an impossibility because they will not act, frozen by the fear of failure.
Taking Mitch’s point, its the really big stuff that matters, day-to-day failures happen, don’t dwell on them and keep in mind what you are trying to achieve.
Thanks for the blog post.
I think there’s always going to be issues – so the important thing it to keep the team focused on “where’s the solution”
I’d suggest that if failures were foreseeable, we’d make sure they don’t happen / work to make sure they are dealt with. What I believe is critical are the “impactful failures” – the ones that, IF they occur, would significantly impact progress toward important outcomes. To me these must be identified up front with contingencies made.
AND, if the goal is ambitious, if the efforts are risky, there will be failures. As noted, keep it simple (short sequence of steps – regularly assessed for progress and refinement as appropriate) – again, with those impactful failures planned for.
I really relate to the point on complexity. Too often, complexities are introduced unnecessarily. We’ve found that simply asking “why” to almost every thing we do allows us to make better decisions which are often less complex. Don’t integrate for the sake of integrating (or just because you can). Understand the “why”, then you can prioritize your recommendation or response.
“6. Technology. Standardize.”
No! Standardized technology is a failure.
You cannot have any technology standard that both keeps the powerpoint&email crowd working and has the tools the guys with their sleeves rolled up need in order to be empowered and productive. It just doesn’t exist. You will fail with both groups. Best case is that the ‘Standardized Technology’ will keep basic functions like email humming and the engineers who need to will disregard your misguided policies and hack themselves to utility. But, the first management entity who puts her foot down and demands that an engineer return to the standard will push him and several more productive people right out of the company.
Very. Bad. Idea.
Even outside IT how could this make sense ? A Standardized Motor pool means what ? Your tree cutter teams have to abandon their work trucks and drive the same prius vehicles as the sales teams ?
You’re inducing a failure here, not preparing to prevent one. You should either drop this from your list or justify it.
My understanding of achieving reliability is this: To achieve reliability I must first understand what success is. Next I must understand all the factor that need to occur to achieve success and identify any potential causes of underperformance so I can mitigate them. I recommend using a fish bone cause and effect diagram to ensure transparency and awareness.