Dare to share your failures | Sunday Observer

Dare to share your failures

When you fail, do you owe it to anyone else to share the story? Yes, you do. But, to get to that answer, you have to think about success and failure a little differently than you are used to.

It’s the hidden mistakes that jeopardise organisations, the reason being that as people are rewarded for achieving goals at work, hiding mistakes seems the rational thing to do. Most adults avoid failure as it looks bad: your ego will want to protect you from losing face or your job.

Due to this reason, normalising failures is most effectively embodied by employees. Failures or mistakes cost business organisations millions of rupees, some mistakes are quantified and most are not as there is no perfect science in assessing the commercial value of losses.

Failure is not always bad

If you are a leader who exudes achievement, sprints up the ladder, and earns big bucks, your co-workers probably resent you to some extent. High-achievers can win over their colleagues with a simple approach by sharing the failures they encountered on the path to success.

It is a generally accepted norm that failure is bad. These widely held beliefs are misguided. First, failure is not always bad. In organisational life it is sometimes bad, sometimes inevitable, and sometimes even good. The attitudes and activities required to effectively detect and analyse failures are in short supply in most companies, and the need for context-specific learning strategies is underappreciated.

Organisations need new and better ways to go beyond lessons that are superficial or self-serving. Failure and fault are virtually inseparable in most organisations and cultures. Every employee learns at some point that admitting failure means taking the blame.

That is why so few organisations have shifted to a culture of psychological safety in which the rewards of learning from failure can be fully realised. A sophisticated understanding of failure’s causes and contexts will help avoid the blame game and institute an effective strategy for learning from failure. Although an infinite number of things can go wrong in organisations, mistakes fall into three broad categories: preventable, complexity-related and intelligent. For all organisations and managers, failure is a recurring reality. But despite failure being all pervasive, few individuals or organisations respond positively. Making failure work productively requires leaders to recognise that plans need to be adaptable in a dynamic environment; failure must be built into the culture and everyone attuned to fail fast, adapt and learn.

We have long believed that over time organisations tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.

Personal and workplace failures

People often respond to workplace failure as they might respond to personal tragedy. They don’t know what on earth to say or how to read or assess it, so they avoid discussing it entirely.

Make it your mission to address the elephant in the room, by acknowledging the failure and looking to understand underlying causes. Learning is crucial for a positive culture, but it hardly ever happens without mistakes, hick-ups, or failures. Learning fast and learning from others’ failures as well, helps your organisation become more consistently and frequently successful.

We are all tempted to put our failures behind us. After all, we typically win jobs and promotions based on reciting our resume of successes, not by recounting our failures. However, sharing the practical learning from a failed activity more broadly can be helpful to you as well as to others in your organisation. Find the right avenue for sharing: a white paper, a talk, an internal blog post. It’s a useful way to explore and expand your organisation’s tolerance for failure, and to illuminate how these stories make their way. 

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