After delivering my keynote Flip Side of Failing, one insightful audience member came up to me to share her favorite saying she shares with her team every day:
“Lose but just don’t lose the lesson.”
Lucky people who work for her, am I right?
It makes sense, yet we still resist it. We’re pretty failure resistant as a culture, and certainly, few organizations I know have failure tolerance. Instead, people feel shame, are blamed, and hide failures; we prefer not to think about them let alone share them.
However, this time of year is a time of reflection. A time when our mistakes and roadblocks pop into our heads like a bad song you just can’t shake. It’s inevitable, you’re in reflective mode, so why not find the most resourceful way to reflect on these failures?
What if, in fact, there were benefits of failure? What if it might make us more successful in 2020 by leaning into the lessons from them? What if we will be more successful in 2020 if we don’t lose the lessons that our failures in 2019 and before have afforded us?
I’ll put my money where my mouth is. I’ll go first.
And man, have I had some big failures.
I made three incredibly bad hiring decisions. Huge, time-consuming and expensive bad hires.
And it gets worse. I’m an HR professional. I’m supposed to “know better”. I’ve had lots of recruitment experience. I got a 90% in my recruitment course when I got my CHRL designation. But I still made three bad choices over a short period of time.
But how bad could it be, you may be wondering. Well…
#1: I had to reboot that fourth book because I somehow hired an editor who didn’t believe in the project (or meeting deadlines). It almost cost me more than my deadline: a speaking client, a conference to launch it, and the first print run of books bought by the sponsor.
#2: I had months where I didn’t do any sales prospecting resulting in a dip of income because I onboarded the wrong VA (Virtual Assistant) who didn’t last a month. To hire someone full-time, I had to break my contract with an amazing VA who’s been with me since the beginning, but she’s so good, by the time I knew this person wouldn’t work out, my original assistant was full.
#3: My audiobook came out six-months behind schedule as a result of me straining my voice to the point I lost it. But more disruptive than that temporary setback; the disorganized sound tech, his poorly designed recording space, his inability to set his alarm to wake up on time (I kid you not), and his sudden decision to quit mid-project as soon as the audio was done (leaving all the “tough and not fun” editing to still be completed) left me reeling.
It all took an emotional and financial toll. It was also a huge hit to my ego despite (ironically) this all happening related to a book about flipping failure. If you ask my family, they saw first hand the unresourceful wife and mom I was for a month.
Now, I shared this with you to acknowledge that failure happens to all of us and also because an HR professional made those three bad hiring decisions. Failure happens to all of us. Even when we’ve done everything – checking references, interviews, asking for recommendations – right.
Living Your Own (Failure) Message
The good news is, on the other side of it, I’ve learned a lot from this that I’ve already incorporated. I’ve been able to figure some things out that I will take forward into my business, not just next year but embedded the lessons in all aspects of my company. I’ve slowed down to course-correct broken systems and also to not burn myself out. I’ve embraced patience in a way that I don’t come by easily (a quality that I was not blessed with naturally). I don’t think I’m not failure-proof, however, these failures are less likely to dawn my door.
So how can we turn these into overarching guidelines? I have a few ideas:
- Get to the Root Issue
When you experience a failure, an obstacle, a setback, a roadblock, you need to do a root cause analysis. And that’s just a fancy way of saying we need to ask ourselves “why” enough times until we get to the bottom of it all. What was the cause? What was the reason? What were the contributing factors? Why did that failure (or repeated series of related failures) happen at that time?
- Suspend the Ego
When we know the root issue – and I will warn you, it takes you being really honest with yourself and being able to have a strong ego to be able to get to that root issue – you will be able to then take the next step is to look at the other aspects of your career, your business, and your life to be able to see where else that failure is likely to surface. I can tell you this from practicing root cause analyses as an organizational development practitioner, an issue almost exists in other places as well. It may just not be known, cared about or as grave. But it’s there. Ignoring it ignores the lesson. Lose, just don’t lose the lesson.
- Create a Plan
Now you are aware of what the root issue is, you will begin to see and notice where else it could be showing up in your work and your life. This is your opportunity to try something new.
What are the things that you need to do to course-correct so that going forward it will not continue to happen? For example, for me, the root issue of why these hiring mistakes were happening was that the growth in my business outpaced my creation of standard operation procedures (SOPs); I couldn’t pass on the “current best way” because it hasn’t been firmly established, tested and solidified. And without this, I was always on the run, rushing to make decisions about people, leaving them to interpret what I wanted and no time for me to follow up to ensure expectations were being met. As much as I don’t enjoy it, creating SOPs, diving deep in my own processes for marketing, bookkeeping, and other “tactical” parts of the business has been an essential focus to support my team and to make me feel more at ease the right steps are being taken.
- Ask for Help
When we struggle, we’re often hesitant to share it with others. I know I didn’t, despite how topical it was for my book! However, when you share what is going on, it gives you an opportunity to ask for help and welcome it when it’s offered. So many times, I was hesitant to do a Facebook Live or to share with a colleague or even to tell my family what I was struggling within my business, but believe me, it was noticeable to anyone who knew me well. I just felt like I needed to manage it all myself or I just hoped that I could quickly get this under control. It took months. From the first “bad hire” to the last, it was one year. A year of disappointment, frustrations, missed deadlines and working overtime. Imagine how many times I would have been distracted or irritable or even just frustrated and how other people probably picked up on that. Not only that but because I wasn’t able to do as much prospecting while I was trying to get my business back in order and be doing retraining and refocusing of my new staff, it meant that I wasn’t doing some of the business development work. I ended with a profit, however not as healthy as the year before.
- Celebrate Growth
Whether something fails because you are striving for something ambitious, or like me, you’re growing at such a fast pace, what if instead of bemoaning the failure,
you celebrated the fact you had the opportunity to fail? And if you can celebrate the failure, you can also better notice and celebrate when things are turning around.
Don’t write them off, but truly notice progress and acknowledge it. Recognize the greatness even in the chaos. Even when everything is not perfect – because frankly it probably will never be perfect – notice small signs that things are a little better or farther or more manageable.
Oh the Irony…
I hope this has been helpful for you by me sharing transparently that even the person who wrote the book on flipping failure, I still struggled with it. Ironically, however, once I really started to “own” my struggles, I began to get really excited about 2020. Imagine how much easier and more enjoyable it will be not having these failures and with the stronger foundation that resulted from experiencing them?
Who would you like to share this video with to support them in what they’re going through? Or, as a way of asking for help? Maybe you want to message them or text them. Or perhaps put it out there boldly and bravely in a more public way: “Hey, I’m going through some challenges, and I know others are too. Who wants to support each other in the community?” Even through our failures, we can be greatness magnified.