There I’ve admitted it. Many people have the view of management consultants that we don’t really know what we’re talking about – that we have theories, that we’ve read books but we don’t understand the true reality of business – the highs and lows – of the successes and failures.
Here’s what I know.
In my own experience as a business owner I’ve had successful businesses but I’ve also experienced failed projects and even a completely failed business. The important lessons that I learnt from that process is, amongst other things, what I want to pass on to others.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to go through the pain and the stress of the end of a business… but a little bit of failure could do you good.
you need to take risks
Failure is a scary prospect. It can mean embarrassment, loss of revenue or even complete financial catastrophe and the thought of any of this – of all the ‘what ifs’ – can terrify you into taking no risks at all.
However to push your business forward, to explore new product lines and reach into new marketplaces, all projects – whether big or small – will involve a risk of failure. Without trying new things, without venturing into slightly unknown territory, your business will tread water for a while but eventually flounder and drown.
Getting used to the idea of failure will make you more comfortable taking some risks. This doesn’t mean putting all your eggs in one proverbial basket, or throwing yourself into risky behaviour against all common sense, but undertaking calculated risk that can be managed and dealt with if the project does fail.
So you failed, get over it… quickly
First you have to make peace.
Stop personalising it. Although you obviously put a lot of yourself into your work, business is business and as such you need a degree of detachment to really understand what happened and how to use that information
Don’t beat yourself up or blame those around you – it’s just wasted time and it’s not going to help.
Depending on how big the project is and how much was invested in its success will determine how much pain its failure causes you and how long you can mourn its death.
Then, it’s time to get on with the important stuff.
some failures are bigger than others
By this I don’t mean the size of the project, the amount of time it went over its deadline or the extra costs it amassed but more the failure in terms of its relationship to the identified risk.
Activities like developing a new product or expanding into new areas have inherent risk and so failure here can be accepted to some degree. More important are projects that fail but really shouldn’t have. Projects that involve familiar processes, tried and tested areas where the basics slipped, are those that need to be looked at more closely.
get a business strategy that can cope with failure
What is important in the aftermath is what you do next and an essential part of that is having a business strategy that plans to incorporate lessons learnt from failures.
A strategic plan is not something static, but something that changes and evolves with your business. Even if you produced the best strategy in the world, if it’s then put in a drawer it won’t magically lead your business towards success. Adjusting your strategy, changing objectives and feeding down into revised tactics are essential practices for both successes and failures.
- What has been working and what hasn’t?
- What lessons have been learnt and how can that information be used in the future?
Including these questions in your strategic planning meetings will mean you can learn from your mistakes and use them to move forward.
Failing projects doesn’t make you or your business a failure – at least not if you’re prepared to use them as lessons learnt and weapons in your arsenal for the future.
How well does your business cope with failure? Let me know your thoughts or experiences.
Featured image by Weisser Photography