Admitting Failure, Rewriting the book on Burying Mistakes

Admitting failure

When you have to move to plan B, did you learn anything from what went wrong with Plan A?

This morning I came across the Admitting Failure website. This fantastic site, a collection of well intentioned projects gone wrong, is the brainchild of Engineers without Borders, a volunteer group of Engineers who commit to doing engineering projects around the world. It’s an offshoot of their original “Failure Reports” that they compiled each year to detail projects that had not worked out as planned or not survived after they left.

Most businesses don’t keep “Failure Reports.” Most prefer to bury the mistakes as quickly as possible and move on, so perhaps it’s not unexpected that it took the analytical mind of engineers to not only catalog and categorize their mistakes but actually share them publically.  (By the way, physicians do it too, with their Morbidity and Mortality conferences where they review cases gone wrong).  What was particularly interesting was that the public website came out when one of  the participating engineers realized that the volunteer teams began to actually look forward to reviewing the annual “Failure Reports” to see what they could do differently.

The format of each story is fairly simple, What you set out to do, what happened, what went wrong, what could you have done differently, what do you do differently now? But inside each one is a world of truth. About setting clear expectations, trusting your gut, not being swayed from a proven success formula by outside pressure to hit a goal, knowing your customer.

We fail. We fail often. For every heartwarming “feel good” success or rocketing business success, there is a landscape littered with failures. The challenge is to learn how to fail forward, so the next time, the learning is faster and moves you to a higher ground.

Looking for a methodology on failing fast? Try Lean Startups by Eric Ries for ideas on how to fail fast and build something designed to be responsive to the market needs.

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A Fun Way to Get “Unstuck”

Team in a funk? Feel like you’re hitting a brick wall? There’s an app for that.

The “Unstuck” app, available on the ITunes store is a great, fun tool that allows you to put in a problem, business or personal, answer a few questions about feelings, who’s involved, what you perceive the roadblocks to be, and it shoots out a diagnosis of what’s going on, possible next steps, and some famous folks who have faced similar situations.  It’s been around for about two years and is constantly improved. Try it.

The app is for Ipads and is free. You can read more about it at www.unstuck.com

The Sunday Night Dreads: 5 ways to shake them. Starting Today

 

sunday night burnout

Looking forward to Monday?

A common phenomenon for many corporate and non-profit professionals is the “Sunday Night Dreads”. A combination of burnout, frustration, fear and a sinking feeling in your stomach, it occurs when you dread going back to work on Monday. And you know you’ve hit rock bottom when the “Sunday Night Dreads” morph into the “Saturday mid-afternoon blues” or even worse, the “Saturday Ten A.M. slump.” The “Dreads” are usually temporarily cured with large quantities of television viewing, the addictive substance of your choice (from chocolate to the hard stuff), some form of antacid and a healthy sprinkling of denial until morning rolls around. But what if that’s not working anymore? Here’s a hint, it never was working. What can you do about it?

1. Change your Venue.

Sometimes it’s just time to go. Pick up stakes and get the heck out. That means replacing the dread time with resume building / networking / “asking for a conversation” time with people who are in an industry or job role that gets you excited again. Better yet, assign some time on Saturday morning to do this so you can rest easy on Sunday night with a few conversations scheduled for the following week. But before you go, read on, because sometimes your junk will just follow you to the next venue.

2. Build a Better set of Allies.

Current thinking is that you (and your income) are the average of the five people you surround yourself with the most. Your five may be co-workers, friends, drinking buddies or your family but it could be time to upgrade. I don’t recommend ditching your spouse and kids (they can get kind of sensitive about that) but it may be time to change who you socialize with. Who is doing what you want to do? How did they get there? Petulant answers like “Their father was the CEO and he bought them a position” get you nowhere, pick a different person and don’t be so quick to dismiss everyone as “not worthy”. What do they do in their day that is materially different than how you spend your time in a day? Look at your team members who also appear to be successful and very different from you. Is there something they’re doing you might be willing to try? Get to know them and see if you have some common ground. If your current set of allies is only, and perhaps with the best of intentions, reinforcing your “stuck” feeling, you need to expand your horizons. One of my most motivational moments ever was when I realized that a colleague I considered a moron was making significantly more income than I was. My normal default would be to decry the “unfairness” of it all, topped off with a soothing declaration of what a much better human being I am. Instead, I simply resolved that if that “moron” could make that kind of income, I could do much better than she/he did. And the following year I did.

3. Change One Thing this Week.

And another next week. Can you change just one small thing this week on how you spend your time or who you talk to? Maybe change the way you deal with difficult conversations at work. If you normally dodge them, confront them head on (some suggestions here). Can you take a walk/run/workout for 30 minutes? And can you listen to a TED Talk or business book during that time? Can you set aside 15 minutes to talk to someone different at work, perhaps in a different business line or with a different background?   Make one small change this week, one that takes 30 minutes or less. And then keep building on it each week. There’s some science showing that a series of small “micro” changes can actually lead to more lasting success than massive “overnight” changes. Take 2 minutes right now to write down that tiny change you’ll make this week. And stick it on a post it and look at it on Sunday night. And then do it Monday morning. And stick a reminder in your calendar for Wednesday to make sure you followed through.

4. Throw Yourself into Something Totally New, and a little Strange, that you may Suck at.

We tend to stay in one set of activities or line of learning. If we’re athletic we do sports, watch sports and coach sports. Academically inclined? They know you at the local library, Amazon Book delivery has your number and PBS counts on you for every pledge drive. What if you were to do something you were NOT likely to excel at on your first try? I’m all for playing to your strengths, and believe that 95% of the time you should, but to shake up your thinking you need to have “beginner’s brain” in one aspect of your life. If you’re an engineer take a public speaking class (maybe you’re great at public speaking, if you are, how do you feel about modern dance?). Do something that your friends, tribe, allies would say “Well that’s about the last thing I’d expect him/her to do”  Try Tai chi, play an instrument, join a Table Tennis league, learn a computer programming language, learn Tagalog. Try something where you are Rank Amateur and do it in a setting that involves other people. It will have you talking and engaging with people you normally don’t interact with and “wake up” your brain to other possibilities you haven’t considered. In a tiny way it changes the “Story of You.”  You are now a chemical engineer who also is a dancer. A marketer who is learning computer programming. A top performing salesman who speaks Tagalog.  Open your brain, change your story and see where it leads. And talk to the people you meet while you’re learning. You may find that one of them is the connection you need to start your next career adventure.

5. “If you can’t be with the job you love, love the one you’re with”, by changing it to suit your needs.

What if you could reinvent the place you currently work at to be your dream job? Can you create an entrepreneurial startup inside of the corporate structure? Create a new product or strategy that will increase revenue or reduce costs? Is there a product or project that you, the top salesperson, with an elementary  command of  conversational Tagalog, are the perfect person to take on? Is there a win-win situation where you and your employer can both grow, change and create something entirely new? We’ll be talking a lot about intrapreneurship and reinvention in the next few weeks so subscribe at right to catch the articles.

Got a friend who’s ready to “end it all” every Sunday evening? Do them a favor and forward this article to them. And let me know in the comments what you decided to do this week. (Even it was breaking into the jar of chocolate frosting in the pantry and sticking potato chips in it. Yup, been there, done that. It doesn’t work and it’s pretty disgusting after awhile. But, hey, do what you got to do).

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Lean Startups and Intrapreneurship: Brussels 2014

Join us in Brussels!

Applying the Lean Startup Model in Government and Corporations

Applying the Lean Startup Model in Government and Corporations

Learn about navigating the unique challenges and opportunities when creating Lean Startups in Corporate and Government Environments:

Lean Startup for Intrapreneurs!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

18:30 Kickoff

19:00 – 21:00 Presentations and Q&A

Brussels Enterprise Agency (ABE-BAO-BEA) – Free parking!

Avenue du Port 86C, B211- 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Carl Danneels of Plethon and Jeanne Goldie of 52weekturnaround.com will share their expertise on how to navigate the special challenges, responsibilities and politics when working in an existing corporate or government structure. Understand how to apply the Lean model, communicate the vision, measure and valuate results while managing the politics of Intrapreneurship. Please join us for this informative session.

Food will be provided. Admission is Free.

The Speakers:

 

Carl Danneels

Carl DanneelsCarl is manager of Plethon, a company established in 2003, offering Integral project and portfolio management services to customers in different industry sectors.

He is a bridge builder across cultures and management paradigms and a strong supporter of sustainable/agile project management approaches (focusing on self-organisation & emergent order rather than top-down control). He is a board Member of the Agile Consortium Belgium and a former Board Member of PMI Belgium. Update: Carl’s Presentation

Jeanne Goldie

Jeanne GoldieJeanne is a startup and turnaround strategist for businesses, the person hired when a business wants to fix something that’s broken or create something entirely new. For the past fourteen years she has worked in the Financial Services industry leading organizational strategy after doing similar work in the tech, government and non-profit sectors.

Jeanne shares her insights at 52weekturnaround.com, a website that helps teams reevaluate, restructure and rebrand their current trajectory using strategic change management. Gathering the best resources, coaches, and advice the site helps readers see challenges with fresh eyes and deliver real-life solutions.  Update: Jeanne’s presentation.

Need More Information?

Contact Jeanne here

 

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move in your organization? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Uncomfortable Conversation #1: “We need to shut down a business line”

 

Empty interior of building

Making the Tough Call isn’t Easy

“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” Tim Ferris

The Situation:

Your team, after doing your research, running the numbers and looking at a challenge from every angle has come to the conclusion that a business line or project needs to be closed.  This will impact staff, facility leases, and even some customers who have come to rely on the services or products of that team.  You need to present the information to the Sr. Leadership team, two of whom made their careers by working in the very business you are proposing to close, and some of their protégé’s are working in that division right now.

What you wish would happen:

  1. Someone else would do this. Anyone else. Maybe that external auditor could suggest it.
  2. You could just drop the anonymous suggestion in a suggestion box.
  3. A recruiter would call you with the job of the century this morning so you could skip the conversation entirely.

Things to have with you:

  1. A clear, simple visual of financial projections that can be viewed at a glance, along with much more detailed information in a separate package. Graphs or charts are a good option for the overview.
  2. A plan showing the impact of keeping the line open, vs. the costs and impact of closing the line. Do one for best case, worst case and average scenarios for each option.  Be sure to incorporate your country’s or state’s requirements for staff reductions etc., in your projections (i.e. legal notice, severance. Also include the non-staff costs – leases, equipment etc).
  3. A clear proactive plan for notifying staff, customers and media (if applicable) along with a budget and timeline for the wind down effort.

Having “The Conversation”:

  1. Pick your spot. Don’t just slide it in during a random meeting or a regular staff meeting. This calls for a special meeting to just focus on this issue.
  2. Line up your sponsors beforehand.  This means having lots of one-on-one small, private meetings with discreet senior people to serve as advocates.  If everyone at the meeting is grappling with a new idea at once, the normal response would be to shoot it down or delay it.
  3. Expect that there will be delays.  Most executives will want to do a deep dive on your methodology and your numbers. (That’s what the supporting details in Item 1 of “things to have with you” are for.) However, make sure one of your exhibits shows the costs of delaying the decision by more than a month.
  4. Be sure to acknowledge the human costs involved as you discuss the topic. This is a fine balance; do not recount every detail of every family that will be affected (“Of course we’ll have to cut Mike Smith, and he’s the sole provider for his widowed mother, her six children and he has a disabled son at home”) but don’t go to the opposite extreme either, treating staff as widgets that need to be offloaded.  That will make people question your judgment. Suggest areas of opportunities for the people in the affected unit, by pointing out growing units that require similar skill sets or staffing. If there truly is no internal option, suggest an outplacement strategy.

What will happen next (most likely):

  1. Understand that once you have “dropped the bomb” you lose control of how the information is absorbed and acted upon. Don’t be so strongly wed to your proposal that you devalue attempts at compromise or restructuring. Simply stay firm, polite and open to input. Use your alternative case scenarios to help look at various options that may be proposed.
  2. Once the decision has been made, having the clear communications and action plan ready is imperative.  If you have executives who argue for delay, and it appears that even with delay, the company will have to cut the unit, you will want to point out that doing it sooner rather than later may allow the company to allot a greater amount of resources towards the displaced staff than waiting will.
  3. Take the heat. No matter who makes the final call, you and your team will eventually be “outed” as the architects of the plan. That means you’ll have some team members, even those who get to stay, looking at you in a different way.  Respond to inquiries with a firm, compassionate response and rehearse other team members as well. This is also not the time to upgrade to a better car (even if you’ve been saving forever for it) or take a long exotic vacation.  Low key empathy is the best response.

This post is part of our “Uncomfortable Conversations” series. Our next Uncomfortable Conversation: The project budget has cost overruns. Big Ones.

Have you ever been the “lucky” person who got to deliver this piece of bad news? Share how you did it and what did or didn’t work in the comment section!

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

 

Rule# 6: Build a Measuring Stick.

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to costs or revenues!

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to reducing costs or increasing revenues!

I was raised to be “of service” to others. My mother is the first to volunteer for any task that needs doing and we all developed a strong sense of duty towards others.  Most likely that is why I spent much of my early career in government and non-profit work before turning to the corporate world.

I was very effective in getting financial and executive support for my projects because I had a secret weapon. I majored in accounting in college, and it gave me a firm grasp of the numeric value of any activity and the importance in being able to attribute activities to the revenue or expense ledger. At a non-profit or government agency I was always the person trying to measure our results, determine the activity’s value relative to costs or expense and then find someone who would be willing to pay for it.  We were famous for having all of our employees able to recite chapter and verse how many people we had helped at what cost and with what results, preferably tied to a monetary measurement. Later, when I worked for an insurance company and had to evaluate non-profits for partnership opportunities, an instant mental “No” was rendered when they couldn’t reasonably demonstrate some quantifiable results or outcomes, and the “No” was doubly reinforced if the staff gave me significantly different answers than the director or development director.

It’s not easy to measure things, some defy easy quantitative measurement.  If I keep fifteen teenagers in an after-care program that keeps them from going home alone in the afternoon and possibly getting into mischief, how do you quantify it? Graduates of your program may not have made it to college yet, so you don’t have a warm fuzzy story for the fundraising brochure (but as soon as one of them does, put that kid in a college t-shirt, on campus, holding a bunch of textbooks and get that picture! Sells ’em every time).

In for-profit businesses there are initiatives that can also defy easy quantification. What does “deliver better customer service” translate into in dollars and cents? What about community outreach or sponsorships?  What exactly does reducing customer response time yield that will make a dent in earnings season?

Find a way to measure it. There is almost always a way.  Talk to people in similar arenas, and talk to some not in the industry.  Talk to your Human Calculator, give them all the approaches you came up with and have them get creative.

If you can measure the value it adds or the costs it saves, and if you chart incremental progress, you can demonstrate success, which keeps enthusiasm high for your project, even if there is a bobble along the way.

So how DO you measure the Teenager After-Care example?

One approach:

Studies show that kids between 13 and 15 are X times as likely to get pregnant  and Y times as likely to get into trouble that will do Z to their criminal record when they go home alone after school.

A pregnant  teenager costs the American taxpayer (or county taxpayer or city taxpayer) $___, while a juvenile arrest costs the taxpayer $____.  By funding aftercare for these 15 teenagers we are greatly reducing the odds of these things happening, and saving taxpayers $(all of the above multiplied by the results expected if the 15 kids weren’t in care) which is ten times (or hopefully some other ridiculously high number) the cost of providing funds for the program. So we save our community 9 times every dollar we spend!

How have you found ways to quantify things that defy easy measurement? Share in the comments below, you’ll be helping everyone!

By the way one of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes is “Everything that can be
counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily
be counted.” Very, very true. But to sell your idea, you need to try to count it!

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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Rule #3 Weigh the Opportunity Cost

Joseph Schumpeter

Joseph Schumpeter, economist and Master of opportunity cost

During my freshman year’s eight o’clock microeconomics class one of the few things that made absolute sense to me was the concept of Opportunity Cost, a theory by Friedrich Von Weiser.  It was an “aha” moment of epic proportions where I could finally explain the best way to determine the true cost of making one choice over another.

Simply put, if you have finite resources, when you choose one path of action, you will be using some of those resources up, and they will no longer be available for other activities. If you plan a course of change that will require 400 hours of IT time, without additional overtime or staffing, you would be making those resources unavailable to other departments or projects.

Opportunity Cost forces you to run the overall value of any planned activity or change against the resources it will use up. Is it worth 400 hours of IT time to update a website?  Maybe.  Is it worth 400 hours of IT time to update the website if it will slow customer service response time for your internet customers? What other projects will need to be put on the backburner in order to pull the IT team for 400 hours?

This is why you will need to be able to absolutely quantify the net savings or revenue that will result from your plan of action. You must show that the resources you require are the highest and best use of those finite resources.

P.S. Unfortunately about the only other thing I recall from my very early class was of Von Weiser’s fellow Austrian, Joseph Schumpeter, not his economic theories, but his desire to be known for three things; “To be the world’s greatest economist, the finest horseman in all of Austria, and the greatest lover in Vienna.”  He claimed to have achieved two of the three. Clearly he weighed his opportunity costs.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.  

Rule #2: What you knew on the very first day, is what you need to remember now.

Remember the first day you worked at this company, this department?  Some slight boredom, endless paperwork tempered with the excitement of starting something new.  You had some time on your hands to observe while you waited for HR to send back your docs, or your first client to call. Most likely you observed some stuff that didn’t quite make sense, processes that didn’t seem to be working well; a system that seemed to have a vital hiccup.   And you didn’t raise a red flag because, hey, you were the new guy, maybe you just didn’t get “how things worked.”

A few months later, the “Kool-Aid” has been drunk and you’re part of the team. And you don’t notice those things as much anymore. Or someone gave you some sort of explanation about them that kind of made sense or implied a higher level of thinking had already thought through that problem.

Except, you were right, your beginner’s eyes caught something important.

When I take note of things on the first week of any assignment with a new team, if I look back at the notes a year later, there is clarity of thought that often points to a key weakness of the group, team or setup.  It’s generally not people perceptions, but rather processes, procedures or underlying assumptions of the business model that have a “hole” which, while not fatal, may keep the business from achieving the greatest return on its efforts.

Go back to the beginning. Did you take notes? (If not, make sure you always do going forward.) You may not have been 100% correct in your impressions, but I guarantee, somewhere in those first few days, you saw a glimmer of one of the problems that is dogging your team now.

Start digging there.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015