As the owner of a company, it is human nature to believe that you know what's best for the business and your staff. And while I'd like to think I have made some of those "right decisions" to get us to where we are as an agency today, there are many mistakes and failures I have made along the way. Over the last several years, however, I found that the key to success is learning from those failures so you don't continue to make them over and over again.
Consider some specific examples of how learning from failures led to success below:
1. Conduct Regular Performance Reviews
When growing a business, you get sucked into the day-in day-out grind of the operations. This was me. We would add staff and they would join the team because they believed in the business and in where we were headed. They saw future growth and opportunity. The problem was, I failed at creating a standardized performance review system for our staff. I would meet with them at the end of the year and that was it. Unfortunately, many businesses are still like this. I learned that your company is only as strong as your weakest employee. You must take time to meet with your staff on a regular basis in 1 on 1 meetings to let them know what's expected of them, what they are doing well, what they need to work on, and to communicate what needs to be done to get to that next level. If you don't, you risk losing them and continuing the cycle over again.
2. Host "Town Halls"
As mentioned above, your staff joined the team because they believed in the business and where you were headed. Where I failed was that I didn't communicate with our entire staff on the company initiatives, what we were working on from a high level standpoint, the struggles, and how we could improve. I assumed I knew all the answers or I would only communicate certain things with upper management. In order to get buy-in from your entire team and for everyone to love the business like you do, you must keep them engaged. Because of this, we now have what we call monthly "Town Hall" meetings where we tell the entire staff what is going on and where we are headed. This has helped tremendously with our team atmosphere.
3. Focus on Career Path
Employees want to know they have room to grow and advance within an organization or they will leave. While performance reviews as noted above are vital to this point, the other aspect is developing career paths. I failed to do this early on. Employees would wonder what's next and I didn't lay it out for them. Creating both an organizational chart that lays out growth opportunities, as well as job requirements cannot be understated. By doing this, our staff was able to see where they are now and what exactly they needed to do to get where they wanted. The performance reviews helped provide the ongoing feedback to help them get there.
4. Listen More, Talk Less
In most cases, the CEO is not in the trenches everyday speaking with their customers directly. I thought I knew my customers and their pain points and that's what we created our service offerings around - my perception of what they wanted. What I should have done, and what we do now, is ask our customers why they are interested in X service or why they are leaving their current provider. What did your previous provider not do? Why did you choose us? If you ask these questions and document the answers you will learn incredible things when you combine the data. You will better understand your customers and you then can create something truly valuable.
5. Scrutinize Your Own Performance
It's hard to be critical of yourself. The business is growing and we are doing some great things, so you start to think you have it figured out. But when things go wrong or you don't grow as much as you anticipate, the first inclination is to point the finger at the persons or departments underachieving. It took me a while to understand this but as the CEO, all failures are your failures. I realized that the reason certain individuals or departments weren't succeeding was because I didn't do a good enough job preparing them or communicating with them. Now as issues or problems arise the first thing I think about is what could I have done to prevent this and how can I implement a strategy to ensure it doesn't happen again.
This is something I still struggle with today. As the CEO, you are being pulled in many different directions all day. You know the answer or how to do something, so instead of having someone on your team do it, you do it for them because it's quicker and you can get on to the next thing. The problem is, your team never learns and you don't give them the opportunity to fail or succeed on their own. That's the only way they will grow and become that superstar.
7. Give Praise Publicly
Everyone wants to know they are needed or that they are doing a good job. While I would give praise, I didn't always take the time to do it publicly. Take time to praise your team publicly not only so that employee feels validated for doing something great, but so that the rest of your team knows you are watching and they too will be praised for doing great things. Your "Town Hall" meetings are great places to make this happen.
In the end, learning from your failures is something you owe to your business and your employees. A business that will continue to grow means the CEO will grow right alongside it, and learning from failure is the first step. Consider some of the tips I've learned above, so you don't make the same mistakes I have. If you have any failures that you've learned, please share them below to help your fellow leaders & entrepreneurs.