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When things don’t go as planned

In the TV series, The A-Team, Hannibal often says, “I love it when a plan comes together.”  You are up against impossible odds; you try out a crazy idea or you assemble an oddball group and pull off a spectacular win.  You feel great.  The good guys have won.  They don’t make many TV shows about spectacular failures.  Fortunately, they don’t happen very often, but they do happen.  Despite careful planning, occasionally things will go spectacularly wrong. How a group of people deal with failure is far more important than how they deal with success.  In this week’s newsletter I would like to discuss 6 positive things we can do when it hits the fan.

The Blame Game

When the world goes sideways, insecure people look to blame someone or something.  Alternately this could be called hide and seek with a scape goat.  Funny thing is, blaming someone or something is not a productive activity.  Blaming isn’t about building or understanding, it is about protecting ourselves from a failure. When something goes wrong, it might be someone’s fault, it might shed light on a person or organizations inadequacy. Choosing to blame once a project has crashed and burned is not the way to rebuild, avoid it at all costs.

A different branch of the blame game is the person who will not acknowledge the problem.  You might hear them say that the cards were stacked against them, they did not have the right tools, information was hidden.  By deflecting the issues, denying their part in the failure, they cannot learn from it but are doomed to repeat it again.

Negative feedback

When things don’t go the way we want, there is always a reason for it. Understanding those reasons is the first step to building a stronger organization (personal or corporate) that will have what it takes to successfully complete a similar project in the future.  Understanding and acknowledging are different from blaming.

Many years ago, I was part of a team and I did something that got us to the wrong place.  I told people in a meeting what I had done and how I was going to fix it. One of my coworkers commented that he was surprised that I had admitted to having screwed up.  That was maybe 15 years ago and his comment has stuck with me.  It never occurred to me to hid my mistake.  Not because I am a wonderful person, but because I made a mistake and I did not think that making a mistake was the end of the world.  To become better at something, you must first acknowledge your weakness.

Every electrical engineer has had the concept of negative feedback drilled into their heads.  The feedback is negative because it allows us to identify the difference between where we are and where we want to go. Negative feedback can be a very positive thing.

Training and Education

People and companies don’t know everything.  As you examining the causes of failure you might find that you or your group did not have enough knowledge in a particular area.  Perhaps you took a chance, shot from the hip and hoped you could figure it all out on the way to the target. Sometimes we get lucky and that works.  Other times it does not.  In the midst of a failure if we can identify a shortcoming, a need, we can ask for help.  If the car has already crashed, we can understand the failure and get the training we need so we are prepared the next time to succeed.

Planning and Management

Part of a successful effort is proper management.  Management might be managing one’s self, or it might be managing a group of individuals.  Managing is like walking on a tight rope, if you have your weight too far on one side or the other you will fall.  If you push yourself, or your people, too hard (micromanagement) you will not succeed in the end.  If you let them have free range to do what they want when they want, you will likely find no one shows up at the finish line at the right time.

A tight rope walker must move one foot after the other to get to the other side, otherwise they are a tight rope stander.  They must also monitor their center of balance and adjust when it is off center.  Really good ones will catch objects, balance chairs or ride a bike.  Really good managers will lead. They will understand the needs of the team members, monitor the progress, anticipate obstacles and look for solutions.

Move on

If you have acknowledged what lead to a failure and made corrective actions so that the next time is different, then the next step is to move on.  By wallowing in failure, you have decided to move back to step one and play the blame game.  You are blaming yourself.  In an article about personal growth, J. K. Rowling said that “Rock-Bottom is a foundation, not a conclusion.”  No matter how spectacular the failure, if we learn from it, build on it, then the experience was not a waste.

Every cloud has a silver lining, if you know to look.

Final thoughts

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