Business is generally an organic entity, constantly changing and growing depending on legislation, growth, market dynamics and opportunities and threats. There are plenty of tripwires along the way and sometimes things go wrong. How organisations perform when faced with failure will determine their success.

“Through the wounds of failure come the greatest learnings”

Projects

Projects and plans are a natural way to manage changes within a defined scope, budget and specification. Unfortunately, the nature of projects is that they are at times predictable in their unpredictability. There are often many reasons or stories that provide compelling reading as to why projects and tasks derail or come to a breakdown. But a good story plus no result still equals no result. Regardless of the story, the sooner someone calls the project at a breakdown, the sooner it can be put right.

Much like health and safety incidents, there is always a series of events that lead up to a breakdown. Any of which, had they been called out at the time, could have avoided or mitigated failure with timely corrective action. Unfortunately, human nature at times would rather ignore, avoid, deny or pretend there is not a problem until it’s too late. This is often due to fear of consequences, a lack of support or skill or poor measurement of progress.

Leadership under a performance culture creates a safe environment for people to own up and take personal accountability in a “collective responsibility” environment. The focus should always be on moving forward to solve the problem, not focusing on placing blame or wasting time on a witch hunt. Once back on track, a continuous learning culture will reflect on the incident. Employees will learn from it, take necessary action to improve and then move on.

 

Leadership & Culture

Business is inherently risky and calculated commercial risks are often undertaken as part of a business plan or growth strategy. In fact, to grow, a business must push boundaries and take a commercial risk. In that sense, if you are not failing at times, you are not pushing hard enough. But failure is sometimes a consequence of risk. While people are celebrated for their successes, failure can be a very lonely place.

“Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”.

Our relationship to failure dictates the appetite for commercial growth and the process for continuous improvement. It is where we learn lessons and make continuous improvement gains. Unfortunately, mistakes and unforeseen circumstances happen. It is exceedingly rare for anyone to go out of their way to intentionally fail. It is how you deal with these circumstances as a leader and learn from them that speaks to the culture, the resilience and agility of the business as well as the quality control process.

In my experience, a culture of blame and mistrust leads to employee frustration, lack of ownership, missed opportunity, underperformance and disengagement. Developing a culture where the team and leadership take collective responsibility for failure and support of individuals is consistent with a performance culture. Of course, repeated failure of the same kind is unacceptable under a performance culture and continuous learning organisation.

As far as business activity risk, and particularly health and safety risk are concerned, failure here is not an option. Every business should be actively managing a Risk Management Plan. A Risk Management Plan will identify risks, assess them against a hazard measurement criterion, manage risk under a Health and Safety Management Plan and mitigate or eliminate risk wherever possible.

 

Resilience

Cultivating an environment where business succeeds, people thrive, develop and grow, requires leadership that is inspiring, motivational and at times plain steady in the heat of battle. Decision-making under stress demonstrates either a desired or undesired leadership style in the eyes of employees as it either underpins or negates the desired culture. It is resilience in these circumstances that will define the type of leader/parent/spouse or partner and decision-maker you are.

Small business owners are particularly vulnerable in this respect as they juggle many hats. Business ownership can be a very lonely place with limited opportunity to share problems or escape sustained stress. From a well-being perspective, leaders need resilience in both mind and body to rationalise, problem solve and prevent inertia. Everyone handles stress differently but what we know is that stress is a killer of businesses and people if not managed. Sustained stress is neither good for the heart nor the mind.

A well-being routine focused on staying healthy, fit, and maintaining a positive mindset works for me. That might include walking, gym, meditation, holidays, or some form of personal development. Whatever works for you, as long as you stick with it. Habits take 6 to 8 weeks to embed so persevere. I also recommend finding a good business advisor and developing a network to bounce ideas off and share knowledge.

A problem shared is a problem halved.

 

Performance Tools

All businesses face the challenge of developing leaders, maintaining the right culture, ensuring staff are engaged and recruiting the right people. Each carries a high risk of failure when mismanaged. As business advisors, our role is to help our clients manage that risk. So we recommend the REACH Eco-system.

REACH is a framework to inform, identify, train and implement cultural change. REACH provides a personal and team profile psychometric analysis, 360-degree leadership feedback and a culture/engagement survey. Following a systematic process can help you achieve and maintain a performance culture. REACH can profile specific positions in your business and recruit to that profile. I am happy to share more with you or find out more on our Leadership and Development page.

 

By Steve Alesech | Business Advisor