5 Steps for Embracing Failure

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of embracing failure. This applies equally to both individuals and organizations, but we’re focusing on the organizational level for this series. In this post, we’ll discuss some strategies for successfully managing and embracing failures, several of which will be discussed in more detail in future posts.


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Detecting Failure

Detecting failure seems obvious, but it isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. “Spotting big, painful, expensive failures is easy,” says Amy C. Edmondson, author and Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, in a Harvard Business Review article. “But in many organizations any failure that can be hidden is hidden as long as it’s unlikely to cause immediate or obvious harm. The goal should be to surface it early, before it has mushroomed into disaster.”

Identify the Reasons for Failure

Although there may be situations when a single team or individual dropped the ball or wasn’t up to the task, this step isn’t a time to assign blame, as a culture of blaming will quickly lead to resistance to any failure analysis.
You first must figure out what happened and then address individual or team shortcomings later. In our next posts on this topic, we’ll review some common sources of failure.

Implement Changes

Once you’ve identified the source of the failure, take appropriate mitigating action, such as updating processes or improving staff deficiencies, and analyze the circumstance to prevent similar failures in the future. You should also include a “lessons learned” meeting during which staff are briefed on what happened and the preventive steps to take for the future.

Review Your Progress

From time to time, review your processes and business activities to see if the solutions you’ve implemented have been effective or need to be adjusted, enhanced, or replaced.

Embrace a Culture of Learning

Because failures can be a great source of learning, as they identify gaps in skills, processes, etc., you should build a culture of learning within your organization and create an environment where employees learn from mistakes instead of hide from them, which can result in an even bigger failure. The key is having the proper methods in place and the right mentality to embrace failure and learn from it. In our next couple of posts on this topic, we’ll look at some specific types and reasons for failure.