For some, failure can mean the end of the road on some activity, venture or goal. But that is only true if you give up and just stop. For me—and for many others like me—failure in some area can act as a valuable learning experience that further enables success. This new series of blogs illustrates, with my own experience and observation, how learning from failure is possible.
Over the last several years, I have hired different types of personnel for various teams. They were to cover functions from many aspects, including bringing assets to the company. The idea was that they were experts where we were not—they were to step in and help figure out, in their specific areas, what to do.
A period of time later, after a great deal of expenditure and little to no results, I regretfully had to let some of them go. They obviously weren’t happy, and neither was I.
These were intelligent, capable people who actually did a decent job. It was definitely a failure on my part—and it was based on incorrect assumptions from the beginning.
The first assumption I made when these people were hired was that they were on the same page as we were, and proceeding with the same strategy, goals and technology. What I failed do was to ask them, right at the outset, “What do you see should be our strategy going forward, based on what you’ve seen in the company?” We should have asked them what they intended to do, and then clarified exactly what that was.
If we had done this, we might have
a) avoided problems that later arose by clarifying individual intentions up front or, even better
b) been able to correct their course by informing them of exactly where we were going, and guiding them in the right direction.
Instead, I (and others at my company, too) assumed we were all going in that direction, and proceeded on that basis.
The second assumption we made was that these people were taking the needed actions to produce the kind of results that we expected of them.
This actually stemmed from different understandings—mine and theirs—of the results we were going for.
I almost but not quite corrected this issue as we went along. Several times I saw that that the results being produced were not what I thought they should be. Each of those times I accepted explanations as to why those results weren’t happening.
Sometime later overall results had gotten worse, and there were other major issues with these personnel as well. I ended up, after looking everything over, letting them all go.
6 Principles Violated
As you might have seen in my blog posts or ebooks, I’m a great believer in the management techniques of Fredmund Malik. He bases his philosophy in 6 basic principles. In looking back at the mistakes I made with some of these personnel, I realized that all of them were violated.
From the beginning, a number of these people criticized the very foundation of how Pipeliner was operating. There was also constant complaints about various people and issues within our company.
This was another clue—that I missed—that we weren’t on the same page.
Trust is something that must exist in a business relationship, especially in a virtual operation such as ours in which nobody is reporting to an office. If we had been able to see some of these people every day, and actually look at what they were doing, many of the problems that later arose certainly would have been caught almost immediately.
And most importantly, as I have now learned, trust cannot be founded on assumptions that have not been verified.
Concentration On a Few Things
This principle is especially important when you’re in the midst of early growth, as our company is. Practically from the time they arrived, several of these people insisted on starting all kinds of projects and making increasing changes. We had our priorities—they were already in progress when these people were hired. We—and they—should have stuck to them.
Focus on Results
Instead of focusing on the results that mattered most to us, a number of these people kept changing the results they felt we needed to focus on. The “result” on which to focus become a constantly moving target.
One of Malik’s most astute principles is that of utilizing strengths—meaning, don’t spend your time trying to strengthen weaknesses. Focusing on strong points and strengthening them is a much more positive and effective way to go.
Certain of these people kept trying to dictate what direction product development should take, which wasn’t even their job. Instead, they should have been utilizing their own strengths, their own expertise, in their own areas.
Contribution to the whole
Every action taken within a company should, in some way, contribute to the whole, the overall effort. Yet the actions these people took did not.
I would again emphasize that these were very capable individuals, who thought they were doing the job they were hired to do. I assumed they were, too. The lesson I learned, and that you can learn from me, is never making assumptions, especially with new hires, and especially with crucial company functions.
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