Failure to Empower Failure May Cause Failure


“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”– Eric Hoffer

In this age of technology, organizations must deal not only with disruption and convergence, but the exponential speed of change.

Many businesses continue to operate like they are driving in a dense fog on a once familiar road. They cannot see their surroundings clearly, so they depend on their memory of the route, driving more cautiously as result to get them safely to their destinations.

Unfortunately, as with the business environment, the prior route has been altered to take advantage of time, technology and human needs, and the drivers of business become lost. They either continue until they are out of gas, pull to the side of the road, hit a wall or drive off a cliff.

If you think that is too dramatic, think about how, worldwide, well established companies which had survived and thrived for decades or centuries are disappearing. The S&P 500 Index demonstrates this best. Of the 500 companies making up the index in 1955, only 60 are still on the index as of 2017. That’s 88 per cent of successful businesses that are no longer part of the index.

Why Success Stories Fail
Why? Sticking to the road in the first place is the primary part of the problem. My contention is that much of the problematic metaphor above is generated by a failure to empower failure—to go off road and discover a new piece of a previously unknown map. Yes, accidents may be costly, but a willingness to fail is often invaluable, particularly when a new way process, purpose, product or service is the result.

In order to survive and thrive in this time of escalating technologies, organizations need to consider—and hold to—some of the new, and enduring, principles of organizational success:

1. Failure is the price of progress and needs to be embraced. The definition of failure within the organization should be clear. The inability to do one’s job due to lack of motivation, skills or proper direction is not an employee’s failure, but a managerial one, and is not the type of failure being addressed here. The failures that need to be empowered are those relating to new ideas or methodology—in short, things which if successful will move the company’s needle forward.

Imagine, for a minute, having a VP of failure as opposed to innovation. Not only would this be more accurate in most cases, such accuracy could be put to profit. Their mandate would be to fail quickly, smartly and help others do the same. Their doors would be open to anyone (employee, customer or vendor) with a suggestion or idea to keep the company innovative and agile. What might that do for a company?

2 . All businesses serve the needs of people. People want to get their needs and desires met, quickly, easily, and as much as possible, without pain or frustrations.

For a business to have optimum performance, it must be in sync with its employees, customers, vendors and its community. It needs to continuously ask, how can we do what we do better? Are my vendors still to adding value at the level the business needs? Is there a new or different vendor who can help us improve our product, service or delivery? Is the business hitting its engagement targets for employees and customers?

3. Once an innovative technological genie is out of the bottle, it stays out and improves. It changes the way we do things until, it too becomes obsolete. Whether businesses want it or not, people adapt and use the newest technology as it is offered to them if it fulfills their needs and desires. The adoption may not be immediate, but will happen in time.

For example, as an early adopter, when I tried the Internet in early-1990s, it was not worth my time and energy. Having to deal with modems, poor connectivity, limited information and the lack of speed, was not something that thrilled me, so I backed off. Today, much of my research, data storage and communications work is done via the Internet. Just as the Internet changed the way we deal with data and communications, so have new technologies changed, and will continue to change, the way we live and work.

The More Things Change
As a result, it is essential that HR professional provide the catalytic push to keep their companies asking the essential questions:

  • What impact will this new technology have on my business?
  • How can I use it to grow, keep and possibly strengthen my business?
  • How can I change and adapt in other ways to offset some of the impact?
  • What is on the horizon that could have an even bigger impact? (A great example of this is taxi industry. First, they were taken by surprise by UBER, then confronted by the AI-driven options of Tesla.)

Fail, Change, Profit
The pressure is on for companies to embrace and utilize the disruptive the technologies in their midst to secure their piece of the future—and their collective peace-of-mind. To do that, businesses need to prepare themselves first. This comes back to some core themes familiar to the HR professionals:
Build a culture that supports failure and thrives on change to support innovation and agility. This defines an engaged culture where failure resulting from new concepts and ideas are empowered, not punished.

Build your talent and knowledge banks. A business can no longer survive with what they already know. They need the policies and procedures to attract, identify, nurture, and retain talent that can learn quickly.

Companies have to think about their employee’s experience as an asset that can be re-deployed to strengthen the organization. A positive experience related in any of the multitude of online forums is never something you can demand, but always speaks volumes of the workplace.

The HR Challenge
Familiarity with the above themes are not enough. HR needs to step up their leadership. As the gatekeepers of organizations, HR might like to re-examine the functionality of the gate.

Ask the questions suggested in this article but focused on HR. For example, are policies conductive to hiring the kind of people we need? If we need forward-thinking employees, and one of our selection filters is a degree, we will not be attracting the next Anna Wintour, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Arash Ferdowsi, Bill Gates or Richard Branson.

If we do attract them, how do we retain them? What tools are being used to get to know them at a level that allows the company to meet their needs? Are there new tools, management techniques or courses we need to explore?

Here is an HR challenge then: What is within your control, that if changed might bring huge benefits to the organization? Do you need to get permission to fail at this? How do you get that permission?

Akeela Davis is a productivity, engagement and cultural strategist at Courageous Business Culture. Using Motivational Map diagnostic surveys, she co-creates solutions for optimal outcomes.

(PeopleTalk Spring 2018)

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