Are You Failing Enough?

Develop a Culture of Innovation and Growth

As a child, you were constantly failing. You formed words in your mouth, which instead came out as sounds. Those failed words were music to your parent’s ears. You fell hundreds of times as you attempted to walk. You crashed your bike as you began to ride. You made cacophony instead of melody as you learned to play the piano. From all of these failed experiences, you were learning. If you quit because of these failures, you would have remained silent, never learned to ride a bike or play the piano.

What were the conditions that allowed you to find success from these failures to learn, grow and develop? Your parents or guardians most likely encouraged you when you were learning to walk, especially when you fell. They kept talking to you when you were making sounds instead of words. They motivated you to get back on your bike after you skinned your knee. They applauded your staccato rendition of your favorite song at your first piano recital.

As we get older, many of us have learned to do what it takes to get rewards for good behavior and avoid punishment from mistakes. Consequently, many gain a sense of satisfaction when they are praised, and shame for reprimands. Much of an individuals self worth may come from the acceptance and reward they receive. As children grow through adolescence they become less and less willing to take risks, which might lead to embarrassing attention. In our middle and high school classrooms, fewer students raise their hands, for fear of being wrong.

I remember being in Mrs. Martin’s 12th grade honors English class 34 years ago. We would read books like the Heart of Darkness, Walden and other “fun” reads. Mrs. Martin would ask questions and rarely got answers. I was a fairly smart kid, and the son of an English teacher. I often knew the answers to her questions. However, I would not raise my hand. Instead, I would answer under my breath, just loud enough for some kids around me to hear. This happened often enough that the kids around me started to laugh when Mrs. Martin gave the same answer I had just muttered. Eventually she asked why the kids were laughing and they said, “Spencer always has the answer.” So now she deliberately called on me. In those moments, however, I never seemed to have the answer.

I struggled to get a good grade from Mrs. Martin. When I complained to my mother, also an English teacher, she told me I just needed to work harder. I had a paper due on Thoreau’s Walden. I told my mom it was not worth it to try, I would just get a bad score. My wonderful mother decided to teach me a lesson that a good grade was possible and wrote my paper. (The only time she had ever done this.) She, and I, received a C+. She was so furious; she told me she was going to talk to the teacher. Instead of making a kerfuffle, I wanted to avoid embarrassment and further humiliation so I dropped the class. I had what Psychologist Carol Dweck calls, a fixed mindset. If I had what she also calls, a growth mindset, I may have been more willing to learn from my mistakes. Instead, I avoided the learning opportunities afforded me in her class and just rested on the fact that I didn’t need another English credit to graduate. I settled for avoiding discomfort and protecting my ego.

I’m sure I am not the only one that has had a fixed mindset at some point. As we mature, many of us participate less and less in successful failure. Many avoid situations, which may lead to failure in their lives and in their businesses. In my business, I see many people who are unwilling to change habits and patterns. They are afraid of getting feedback that does not reinforce a positive self-image. Feedback can be a valuable tool to help us improve. Instead, we label it as unjustified criticism to protect our ego and need to be right.

Some of us have behavioral characteristics that are more disposed to avoid failure. Some people have a bias for perfectionism. This may cause them to delay action because they fear making mistakes. Other people may be very demanding. They focus on task, and minimize relationships. These demanding and critical leaders shut down innovation and, may take few risks themselves to avoid their own medicine. Others dislike confrontation, or difficult situations, so they avoid them. Still others are so focused on being right, they may not be willing to risk being wrong in order to learn. Click here to request our powerful assessment to identify your behavioral characteristics. When we send you our link, the process only takes 5-10 minutes.

In business, we have management processes whose entire existence is to eliminate or mitigate risk. Project Managers manage risks of various types such as technical risks, monetary risks, and scheduling-based risks. The International Organization for Standardization, created standards relating to risk management known as ISO 31000. These standards create systems and processes designed to reduce risks. However, they may also create a bias against taking risks. This risk aversion can permeate organizational cultures and stifle growth.

I do not suggest recklessly taking risks or accepting failure. Instead I suggest developing a culture of innovation and growth. The marketplace is changing so often and so rapidly, it is impossible to succeed with the status quo. According to a recent HBR article, “Increase Your Return on Failure,” one of the biggest reasons companies fail to grow is a fear of failure. The authors, Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Hass, cite a Boston Consulting Group survey, which identifies 31% of respondents identified a risk-averse culture as a key obstacle to innovation.

The solution? Foster a culture where “Fail Fast,” “Fail Often,” and “Fail Forward” is embraced.

  1. Fail Fast: Use failure as a call to action; to improve, to learn. Be willing to avoid complacency and take action. Avoid perfectionism and analysis paralysis. Set parameters for experimentation and innovation. Edison and his team learned 10,000 ways a light bulb doesn’t work. Their process of experimentation led to success.
  2. Fail Often: Focus on what you can control. Lon Kruger, Head basketball coach at Oklahoma is a great teacher. He wants to win, like most of the people on his staff and his team. He teaches the athletes to pay less attention to the final score and more attention to their individual effort. Did you dive for every loose ball? Did you do what it takes to win the rebound battle? Did you do your best? Coach Kruger stresses that when we continually do our best, the scoreboard will eventually reflect our effort.
  3. Avoid complacency: The environment is constantly changing. What worked last year, last month, last week, yesterday, may not work today. Continually look for ways to improve and innovate. That requires being willing to accept some risk and failure. Click here to watch a short video of a Japanese entrepreneur who embraces fail often.
  4. Fail Forward: Change your approach. Avoid the victim mentality. When things don’t work out the way you planned, change your approach and move past it.Learn to appreciate feedback. If you have a fixed mindset, this can be very difficult. I have learned to ask myself, “is there truth to what they are saying, or wisdom in their perspective?” I needed to learn that their perspective was valid to them. When I dismissed feedback as inaccurate, I would do nothing new, or different, and would stay stuck in my behavior.

Learn from every failure. It is not easy to take time and look in the mirror about what went wrong. Sports teams have made a science of this. They study video images to see what went wrong so they can identify what to do differently. I regularly watch and listen to myself giving presentations. It is painful, to be sure, because I see all my weaknesses exposed. But, this is a great opportunity to improve my craft.

We have experimented with google adwords to help grow our business. We set aside a small budget to experiment with. We wanted to learn what works and what didn’t. We created multiple ads to track responses. The ones that performed poorly were replaced. The ones that perform well were given more investment. We learned from failure and success. Both are valuable. After a month of this process, we had working strategy. We then committed a larger budget to a winning strategy.

Learn from your mistakes and mistakes of others. Gather new information and data continuously. Then share what you learn. This will let people know you are serious about learning. By avoiding talking about mistakes, you send a message that failure is not acceptable. Encourage others to share their mistakes and lessons learned.To quote Pixar president, Ed Catmull, “Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil, they aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new and should be seen as valuable.” Your focused and deliberate efforts to create a culture that encourages successful failure will pay dividends.

Fail Successfully!

The Author Spencer Horn, is President of Altium Leadership. Additional articles that may interest you: How To Create Success From FailureSick And Tired of Being Sick And TiredHow To Get Your People To Change TodayThe Power of AccountabilityHow To Defeat The ‘Fog of War’ In Business

Effectively Managing The Praised Generation

There is a generation out in the workforce today who do not regard, accept or handle feedback or criticism. Often when some of these young professionals run into opposition or frustration at work, they don’t always handle it well. If they don’t get along with a boss, many quit within weeks of being hired. They stay in a job less than two years compared to the average worker who stays in their job about 4.4 years (Bureau of Labor and Statistics). These employees belong to what is called the “praised generation.” Effectively managing the praised generation is a business necessity.

One problem with this generation is they have been overly praised by well-meaning parents. These parents have boosted self-esteem by telling their children how amazing, smart and talented they are. This form of praise, according to psychologist Carol Dweck, can create a fixed mindset that does not respond well to setbacks or opposition. These children are entering the workforce and according to Ms. Dweck, “…many can’t function without getting a sticker for their every move. Companies are reinforcing this behavior by shifting annual bonuses to quarterly or even monthly. Instead of employee of the month, it is employee of the day. Companies are hiring consultants to help them recruit, reward and retain this population.” I just attended an event where one of these consultants was giving my CEO peer group advice to better manage this generation. We have a workforce with too many that require constant positive feedback and can’t handle feedback for improvement.

Two things need to happen for this to change: 1. Managers must to own their behaviors and learn to be better bosses and learn to encourage better behaviors in their employees. 2. Younger employees must learn some resilience and learn how to deal with conflict and disappointment when things don’t go their way like they may be used to. It is important that we figure this out, because like it or not, Millenials (praised generation) are currently the largest generation in the workforce and will make up 49% of the workforce by 2020. They also have many tremendous talents and qualities that will benefit in our businesses.

So what do we do? Long-term: Parents must be willing to allow their children to fail. Help them feel the consequences of loosing a game occasionally, instead of a trophy just for showing up. They need to know when they do a great job and when they can do better. My wife and I have five children. Some of our children are grown and are doing well; they hard working productive members of society. They (mostly) took correction well and learned from mistakes. Some are still growing and learning. Our parenting is sometimes viewed as unreasonable and punishments are sometimes considered ‘mean’ and/or ‘crazy’. Our behavior is viewed as the problem rather than their actions being the issue. We, as parents, have had to be consistent and fair in order to develop responsible, productive adults.

My wife and I get feedback from other parents who say our children are well adjusted. It leads me to believe that many are not ‘leaning’ into the discomfort of teaching children discipline. It is not about being friends. It is about being loving parents. Part of my evidence about these parents comes from managers who are asking for my help with these praised children who work for them. More disturbing evidence of failed parenting comes from a conversation I had recently with a district judge in Las Vegas, where I live. He tells me that convicted felon’s always ask for mercy and don’t feel they deserve punishment for their crimes. He said when he gives the sentence, he is called ‘crazy’, ‘mean’, and worse things including threats. This judge knows the only way we learn is if we experience the consequences of our choices. Society it seems, must bear some of the burden of parenting deficiencies.

My question for you as a leader is-how well do you handle adversity? How good are you at taking responsibility for your actions and your failures? We live in a society where so many look to blame others for their failings. It seems most would do anything they can to avoid consequences. People with this mindset fail to learn and grow because they perceive consequences as negative. Many have the attitude that laws apply to everyone else and breaking the law is okay as long as you don’t get caught. Then if you do, it is because you are being treated unfairly.

So what can you do be more effective as a manager of this praised generation?

  1. Adjust your expectations:
    Realize that developing this praised generation into productive contributors in your business takes commitment and consistency. You cannot simply hope the problem will solve itself. Make employee development an integral part of your business strategy.
  2. Learn how to praise: 
    Ms. Dweck gives some great advice that I support which you can immediately implement. Change what you praise your kids and employees for. When they do something hard, praise them for that. When they stick with a project regardless of the outcome, praise them for their commitment. Praise them for the effort not the outcome. Instead of praising for a job well done or a brilliant performance or a great idea, praise them for taking initiative. Ms Dweck even says, tongue in cheek, “praise them for not needing constant praise.”
  3. Coach & Mentor: 
    Develop coaching and mentoring programs that focus on soft as well and hard skills. Have a deliberate leadership development program that identifies and advances high potential employees.
  4. Fail forward: 
    Create an environment where people have enough freedom to learn by trial and error. Encourage employees to take initiative and take risks within reasonable limits. Mistakes can accelerate learning.
  5. Increase conflict: 
    Learning how to normalize conflict and disagreement. With the proper training, managers can learn how to turn conflict into a positive tool for the organization. It will help employees learn to constructively give feedback and benefit from disagreement. Building these conflict muscles will help develop this praised generation and consequently, help older generations make better decisions and be more engaged and productive.

The solution takes persistence and commitment. Your efforts can yield great benefits. Despite some of the negative press the “praised generation” gets, they have a great deal to offer and they are the future of your business.

The author Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC.

Other topics that may interest you: Magnify Your Reputation; How To Make Yourself Instantly More Valuable;  Leadership Is About Impact Not IntentionWhat Is Innattentional Blindness Costing You?Is The Fundamental Attribution Error Destroying Your Team?Cure For The CEO DiseaseWhen Being Too Smart Hurts You

Cure For The CEO Disease

4 Steps To Overcome CEO Behaviors That Erode Culture

Do you know a CEO or top executive that is unaware of their impact or overestimates their abilities? Leaders who are out of touch with the truth about how they “show up” is all too common. This phenomenon is what Daniel Goleman calls the “CEO disease”. Goleman reports…”the higher up the ladder a leader climbs, the less accurate his self-assessment is likely to be.” (Primal Leadership, Pg. 92, Daniel Goleman (2002)).  The problem is that as a leader climbs the organization, the less feedback he or she receives. According to James Conway and Allen Huffcutt, who analyzed 177 separate studies that assessed more than 28,000 managers, found these managers were not receiving consistent feedback on their performance. The lack of feedback problem is reported to be more acute for leaders who are women or belong to a minority. (See Peggy Stuart, “What Does the Glass Ceiling Cost You?” Personnel Journal 71, no. 11 (1992): 70-80).

The predominance of the CEO disease has a large negative impact on cultures of businesses all over the world. When leaders drive negative emotions within their organization, they erode the foundation of a culture that enables people to excel. Leaders who are aware of their impact and work to drive positive emotions will conversely strengthen the culture that enables people to excel.

Four steps to cure the CEO disease:

  1. Recognize That You Can Change:

    Many leaders have the mistaken opinion that they need to be accepted for who they are, because after years of habits and behavior they can’t change. The latest neuroscience has destroyed the myth that we can’t change. We maintain neuroplasticity until we die, meaning, we can make changes to how we think and behave. American author and futurist, Alvin Toffler, says “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

  2. Create A Safe Environment:

    Create an environment where it is safe to give and receive feedback. Some people fail to give feedback because they fear punishment or the leader’s wrath if they dissent. Some only give positive feedback because they do not want to be labeled negative or going against the party line. Some are afraid to give feedback because they don’t want to upset others or hurt their feelings. By creating this environment, CEO’s and managers will get a more accurate finger on the pulse of their organization. Understand that all feedback you receive is subjective. Each leader gets to determine what to do with the feedback they receive. Knowing what people really think is always better than ignorance.

  3. Increase Self-Awareness:

    Be willing to take a 100% honest look at yourself. Many executives work with coaches to improve their self-awareness. Consider participating in a 360 review. This can provide a valuable roadmap for behavior change. Work with great training and development organizations who will provide you with a safe environment to strengthen your leadership competencies. These environments should push you out of your comfort zone to learn and grow. When we are out of comfort zone, our most challenging leadership behaviors surface and a skilled facilitator will help accelerate awareness and behavior change.

  4. Persist:

    Recognize the process of becoming an effective leader is a lifelong pursuit. Even the most effective leaders recognize they can make improvements. For the best leaders, making minor adjustments and behavior improvements sets a powerful example for the team and will pay dividends on the emotional and cultural health of the organization which will translate to better financial results.

For more information on how to cure your CEO disease, call Spencer Horn Solutions today 702-807-4698 www.spencerhornsolutions.com