As a former competitive martial artist, I learned at an early age that sometimes, despite all of your training and preparation, losing will happen.
In our business, we help teams formulate and execute strategies designed to give them a competitive advantage. While on that journey, our clients sometimes make mistakes, or, as in athletic competition, they experience losses.
How does this apply to your team?
Though you and your team may train properly, and create a winning game plan, sometimes, even when executed properly, you will still lose. Unforeseen obstacles, unanticipated variables, or even plain bad luck will prevent you from achieving your desired outcome.
As a martial artist, my coaches taught me a mantra that we often teach our clients. A loss is not a failure if you learn from it. In this context, a loss is a lesson. With this in mind, let’s discuss how a team failure can become part of achieving better business results.
• Plan for failure. As part of your planning process, accept the reality that not everything you try will work out the way you intended. Use a mantra like ‘fail fast and fail cheap’.
• Reward what we call ‘new and innovative mistakes’. Wow us, show us a flaw in our process that no one had anticipated. However, if a team or individual is making redundant mistakes we still want them to have a job, we just want them to have it with a competitor.
• Celebrate your ‘failures’. Each time you record a ‘failure’ you have harvested and identified something that you should stop doing or do differently. Celebrate these milestones as part of your continuous improvement process. Create an environment of Emotional Safety® for those times when your people do make mistakes.
• Learn from the mistake. As a result of what you learned, what will you and your team begin to say, do, or think about differently? What is a process improvement that you will make? Bottom line: Make a process improvement.
Some teams we’ve worked with go so far as to award and incentivize strategic losses. You can give awards such as ‘Most Innovative Attempt to Succeed’ or ‘New Lesson Engineering Award’.
We teach our strategy clients that the two keys to being more competitive are 1) Be faster than your competitor to recognize the need for change; and 2) Make that change faster than your competitor. If we were to add a third, it would be to learn from mistakes faster than your competitor.
To summarize: any person or organization that wants to drive innovation, must make the acceptance of failure an acceptable part of the culture. To put this another way: Start thinking about new and innovative failures as lessons.
Losses and mistakes are not failures when they are generated; they are made into failures when you refuse to learn from them or make improvements as a result of them.