“If failure is not an option, then neither is success.” – Seth Godin
Failure is the best teacher. When it comes to Process Improvement and growing our bottom line, failure is invaluable.
The goal for failure is fast, cheap, and often. With each failure, we do a postmortem and reflection so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.
But that’s not as easy as it sounds. In business, we often repeat the same failures over and over, telling ourselves that it will be different this time. In order to make failure our ally, we must first stop treating it like our enemy.
It Starts with Culture
If we treat small failures as disasters, we’ll be in a perpetual state of shell-shock and never learn from them. When they happen, the team looks to the leader for their reaction to base their judgments on the degree of devastation caused.
It starts at the top. Has leadership established a culture of learning? Many Lean Leaders embrace failure so much that they encourage small iterative failures backed by a robust learning process. Failure can accelerate Process Improvement, but only with the right culture.
You can’t win without taking chances. Failure happens, and strong leaders encourage their team to take the (calculated) risk and support them if it doesn’t work.
How many meetings have you been in when the postmortem of a failure turned into a blame game? It’s human nature to blame others for misfortune, but it’s almost never productive.
Of course, there are times where it’s clearly someone’s fault. Those times should be handled accordingly, whether that calls for a serious private conversation or walking the person out of the building.
But those cases are few, while the times we blame others for business failures are many. At the beginning of every meeting like that, one person is usually already on edge, and others are gunning for him or her. Defensiveness and defection follow, and it’s impossible to learn from failure in that climate.
Again, it starts with culture. If there’s a culture of blame in the organization, team members who fail will be too ashamed to learn from it. Or, even worse, they’ll be too scared to fail at all.
Process Improvement is dead in the water without a team that is 100% bought-in and watching for small efficiencies that can trim waste from the organization. Whenever a team member brings an idea to leadership, that person is vouching for the effectiveness of that idea. And if it doesn’t work, they’ll see that as a failure.
It’s leadership’s job to reassure the team that putting resources into new ideas is sound business practice. Whether we fail or succeed, we must always learn from the results—good and bad—without blaming the person bringing it forward.