6 Unacceptable Failures

There is a whole literature about success being born from failure.

And, yes, in essence I agree with this big idea; that only through testing yourself and accepting that your testing could produce failures, can you create a successful business, strategy, approach, career etc.

As a new General Manager, you’ll be counselled by your HR team to be tolerant of failure, to support failure, to even encourage failure as a means to speed success. I’m sure you LOVE the idea of your team members being encouraged to fail while working for you. But how about reframing this to consider failure NOT as an objective, but as an occasional outcome, not unwelcome, but certainly not desired.

But not all failures are created equal.

If you would like to read about success being born out of failure, this is NOT the post for you. I’d like to discuss the failures you should NOT accept.

There are some failures that no matter what, you should never accept from your team. Its possibly worthwhile to outline what’s unacceptable with them so they understand. I’ve been involved in more than my fair share of failures. But have managed to survive because the failures were maybe to do with being too early with the idea for the market, the process didn’t work, we weren’t able to make the great idea, it was too expensive (then), a change in top management strategy mid-way through the experiment, being transferred before the innovation is bedded in.

So what sort of negative failures are these?

  • Lack of Foresight.  The originating team should be conversant with not just their great idea but have great understanding of the market environment now and in the near future and trends surrounding their idea. Take time to really understand the things customers are willing to pay for. Understand and possibly model competitive reactions to your idea. Identify where and when customers may wish to ‘buy’ your idea and for how much, if possible.
  • Lack of Insight into Organisational Support. For me, this was the reason for some failures.  The idea was great, the market was ready, but i never took the time and effort to ‘sell’ my idea to the rest of my colleagues. Consider how you can build support organisational support, not understanding the context. Make the idea less about you and more about everyones success, share the praise and build a coalition in support of the idea.
  • Lack of Management flexibility– All to often, the underlying business weakens as more management time and focus are used to support the new idea. Or conversely the new idea is starved of attention as management maintains the current business. One of the skills of management is being able to negotiate between these.
  • Lack of use of Resources or Infrastructure. This is less about misjudging the cost or misjudging the support needed (although a gross over-estimation or under-estimation could be a disaster), but having understood the scope of the resource and support needs, these resources have been left unused, kept in unnecessary reserve, or misspent elsewhere on unimportant aspects of the idea.
  • Lack of Commitment. Some people become bored with their ideas and tire quickly when forced to face a difficult implementation. Some people identify problems and store them as possible excuses should anything go wrong. Others identify potential problems but keep quite because they dislike the people managing the project- but they will sure tell you after the project fails. Don’t give these people responsibility for making your business a success. Half-hearted implementation through lack of sustained interest or fear of failure is dangerous as you are unsure the idea cause the failure. Failure to highlight potential lack of implementation success or inability to take remedial action should also be noted here.
  • Lack of Strategic Consistency– People with ideas occasionally get carried away, and the idea morphs into something completely different and off strategy. Don’t forget the reasons why you’re innovating- losing sight of the original strategy/values/principles/objectives.  I often felt advertising failures were not a lack of creativity, but a lack of alignment of the creative idea with the underlying brand strategy, or confusion about brand strategy.

Having identified what I believe are the failures that are unacceptable, its quite easy to structure a discussion with your idea originating team to have them consider each of these to ensure they avoid these avoidable errors.