There's a little secret behind the door of every successful company, entrepreneur, and executive. One that few like to talk about, one that most prefer to keep hidden:
It's the decision that didn't pan out as planned. The hire you were sure was a perfect fit but wasn't. The choices you made that didn't produce the outcome you aimed for, or calculated.
It's an ugly truth--one that lurks in every business--that we all wish didn't exist.
Over the years, many have tried to make business failure a little less painful, using words like "pivot" and "rebrand" when a choice, course or direction chosen didn't work out. Others have simply shrugged it off--"oops"--or ferried the attention away as if it never happened.
In reality, failure is real. Every entrepreneur knows it, and every entrepreneur feels the mistakes made by everyone at their company, in addition to their own. Add a loss of time, money, or opportunity and it can be excruciating--if not fatal.
I take failure very seriously--every business entrepreneur and team member should--but not quite in the way you might think.
Here's how I approach it:
1. Recognize failure
One of the toughest things can be recognizing failure when it's not clear cut. It often presents as a shade of gray. You wonder if the cost of change is worth the benefit of the alternative.
Is it a failed hire or someone who just needs more development? Is the branding sufficiently dynamic or do we need to start over from zero?
Before you assume anything, bring more data and objectivity. Then, make the determination.
Interview some potential replacements to see what else might be in the market. Conduct shelf tests to see if the branding is popping off the shelf. You don't have to limit the decision to the information you have today.
2. Admit and acknowledge failure
Some are afraid to identify failure. They deny it to themselves. Others are afraid to admit failure to their teams and outside world. But, it's important to face it and call it what it is so you can take the next step.
Astro Teller shared how they approach failure at Google X in his Ted Talk. By taking it head on and being open about it, they are able to capitalize on failure. They actually give rewards for it: promotions, bonuses and vacation.
We don't go that far at Simple Mills--the important part is creating a supportive environment where it is okay to be wrong. Be candid and straightforward with those involved, and act quickly to acknowledge what happened.
3. Address failure and bounce back
It's not about the mistake; it's about the recovery. When something doesn't work out, remember that you decide what happens next.
Pick up the pieces and move on. You wouldn't break your leg and spend days staring at it before treating it. Take the next steps.
Like any company, we've had our share of failures. But when they happen, we move quickly: Gather the team and determine a swift action plan instead of brushing failure under the rug.
Sometimes failure is the exact mistake you needed to make. Many of the greatest innovations and most successful companies of our time were created by it. Post-It Notes, penicillin, and the microwave oven were born this way.
For us, failure has resulted in stronger relationships among our team members and with our partners, better quality control processes, tastier products, and processes for protecting our brand's integrity. While they don't feel great at the time, failures have made us a greater company.
Extend this style that it's okay to skin knees to your team. We make sure that our leaders are transparent about our own failures, and we don't shoot the messenger. We partner with our team members to overcome obstacles instead.
Don't punish the failure. Punish the risk not taken.