Learn from mistakes, fail forward: Businesses were not created to exploit workers and make fortunes for owners

Learn from mistakes, fail forward: Businesses were not created to exploit workers and make fortunes for owners


So, why aren’t effective managers, admired leaders, engaged employees and healthy organisational cultures as common as blades of grass? They could be! It’s been known for decades how to do better. There’s nothing standing between us and highly engaged, motivated and productive teams, except perhaps the discipline to spend time on what matters most.

Let’s all get busy doing the real work of management: leading! Could we do something more strategic first thing in the morning other than checking email? Might we find better ways to spend our time besides meaningless meetings where the only thing we decide is to meet again? If so, we’d have an excellent opportunity to dramatically improve business results and even – dare I say – enjoy our work. Start with a purpose beyond profit and a mission that matters.

Implement common-sense people leadership and business management approaches proven to deliver results predictably and repeatedly. Recognise and sincerely appreciate people’s contributions to the organisation. This practical approach has the power to truly engage employees, inviting and inspiring people to be strongly committed to shared goals that would be impossible for any individual to achieve, but are inevitable for a true team.

S.T.O.P! But don’t just rush off and start doing things willy-nilly! Replace the all-too-common, adrenaline-soaked rush to solution with enough planning to optimise your results.

● Stop

● Think

● Organise

● Plan

At the very least, this means spending a few minutes considering:

● Big WHY – What’s your purpose?

● Big WHO – Who are the stakeholders involved or impacted? (This often involves a complex universe of conflicting interests that seem truly impossible to satisfy.)

● Big WHAT – What exactly would “success” look like through the eyes of your key stakeholders?

● MEASURES – What would be the measures of success through the eyes of your stakeholders?

Then, and only then, create your Big HOW! This should be a draft plan filled with plenty of experiments, prototypes and other opportunities to learn, adjust and pivot.

Execute with excellence

Take necessary risks, learn from mistakes and fail forward. Unfortunately, given a choice about how much time to spend planning before diving into any challenge, most humans will choose . . . wait for it… zero! Yup, no time spent planning. Just start doing things! After all, no code is written while planning, no products ship, and no revenue is booked. But an optimal amount of planning more than doubles your chances of success in complex tasks, and can improve results for even a seemingly simple one. (Ever gone to the grocery store without a list and discover you’ve forgotten a vital item upon returning home?)

Crossing the knowing-doing gap

Look, I don’t expect reading this to change you. If knowing how to do something were enough, we’d all be rich and thin. There’s always a reason well-intentioned, educated, experienced professionals are doing the opposite of what they know makes sense.

Frequently, it’s because they are really busy and can’t possibly do what needs to be done until someone else changes first – usually their boss or someone in a different department.

In fact, a well-researched book called The Knowing-Doing Gap was written by two Stanford University professors who noticed that their colleagues at the Stanford Graduate School of Business didn’t follow their own teachings when they themselves led companies. What is the source of this gap between knowing and doing? Here are a few . . . F.A.I.L!

Fear of failure: If you’re not allowed to fail, you must be very careful what you start.

Aversion to planning: As I’ve mentioned, given a choice, people prefer not to plan…at all!

Instinct for competition: A win-lose frame is the first assumption that many people make in any situation involving another person, even when win-win can yield more benefits.

Learned helplessness: This is “It’s not my fault!” and “They are doing it to me” thinking.

Knowing how, by itself, changes nothing! Over 70 per cent of business failures have been attributed to an inability to execute.

Take personal responsibility for building an engaging workplace

Peter Drucker reportedly said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” An organisation’s culture is as invisible as the air we breathe and as inescapable as gravity. But sick, twisted, dysfunctional organisations didn’t spring unbidden from the earth, and they weren’t deposited by alien lifeforms.

We create these workplace cultures. The upside of this scary proposition is that we also have the power to change them for the better.

If we acknowledge the dark side of organizations and our own contributions to them, we can create a future where individuals, teams, and organizations generate great results by design rather than by chance. Investors might be happy with a 10 per cent success rate for the companies they invest in, but do you really want to accept those odds? You needn’t. We can do better. Act like a leader.

The difference between someone occupying a management position and being a truly effective leader is that real leaders have the discipline to do what’s required, whether they feel like it or not – no excuses! How we feel is a poor guide to what we must do to succeed.

You may be asking yourself, “Could it really be this simple?” Simple, yes. Easy, no. Using this approach, you can make what seems impossible merely difficult, then possible, and enable your team to achieve together what no one could do alone.

What’s at stake? Planetary transformation!

Businesses were not created to exploit workers and generate fortunes for their owners. They exist to solve problems – and to do it profitably so they can continue to solve these problems year after year. In the same way, global businesses solve global problems, and bring people together across borders and boundaries of every kind to work together in ways that elude governments.

With so much at stake, this is no time to pace yourself! With so much to gain, not only for your people but also for our world, we need to KEEP GOING! And when we do fail, let’s fail for new and more exciting reasons!

  • A Tell report / Kimberly Wiefling

Ms Wiefling is co-founder of Silicon Valley Alliances, and author of Scrappy Project Management; a global business leadership consultant, and a force of nature – the good kind! She specialises in global team effectiveness – helping teams achieve what seems impossible but is merely difficult

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