You missed the target. You totally botched a goal. You tried to book ten sales calls but ended up only booking one. You tried to lose 20 pounds but put on 10. You went for a promotion but got fired instead. In short, you failed.
I’m a big fan of failure. I tell my kids, my clients and anyone who will listen that if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried hard enough. If you never fail, it means that you played it safe. You left opportunities unexplored and cards still on the table. Failing is not an insult or a dirty word. You should wear failing as a badge of honor and courage. Failing is the best education you will ever receive – better than Harvard – but only if you do it right.
Once you fail and please try bigger and bigger opportunities until you fail, here’s what you do:
1.) Accept it. Admit it. – You screwed up. You failed. You blew it. Don’t cover it up. Don’t keep throwing good money after bad. Tell you partner. Tell you friends. Put it on your Christmas cards. No shame. No blame. It just is. Now move to step 2.
2.) Damage control – Before you do anything else, did your failure create conditions that need to be addressed to prevent further damage. For example, you tried to fix your own kitchen sink. You learned that YouTube only gives you so much plumbing knowhow and you failed. Go shut off the water and mop up the mess. We are going to learn and celebrate our fails but make sure the water isn’t going to seep into the wiring first.
3.) Put it into perspective – Did you really fail? Were you able to make positive things happen. I worked with a group that was tasked to improve company efficiency. That was their explicitly articulated and written goal, “Improve company efficiency.” After months of trying to get a document management system installed they realized the vendor they were working with wasn’t right for the company. They felt like they failed. When I asked them why they felt that way, they said it was because they didn’t get the right vendor in. I asked them to look at their written goal. It said nothing about launching a document management system. The process of look for a vendor found some simple process inefficiencies they were able to address which improved company efficiency. Also, just because the vendor they found wasn’t the right one, nothing was stopping them from finding another one. It was a fail. It was simply a delay.
4.) Learn. Learn. Learn. – Did I say learn? Ask yourself a lot of questions about the fail. How did you fail? Why did you fail? Who should have been involved that wasn’t? Who shouldn’t have been involved by was? What things would you try to do differently? What things would you definitely do again? Ask. Ask. Ask. Talk it through with ever one involved. Talk it through with someone who wasn’t involved. Take a break and talk about it again. Early in my career, an entire department failed. The VP left in a scandal. The entire department quit. My boss took it over and it was a mess. He had to hire an entirely new staff, myself included. We met every Monday and talked through all the mistakes we made the prior week and strategized how to not make those same mistakes again. It was a painful process but within a few months, we had an efficient and effective department that was easily accomplishing all of our goals.
5.) Celebrate – You should celebrate every fail because it led to learning. Learning is celebration worthy. Throw a party. Some companies will throw a party and have cake when a product or initiative fails. Enjoy it.