Is it Okay for you to Fail? - James MacDonald
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Is it Okay for you to Fail?

Is it Okay for you to Fail?

We are all after growth. Whether it be life in general, or more specifically our careers. It’s a good feeling to be moving forward, to be learning, to be growing. Unfortunately, whether it be in life or work, there are factors that limit or hinder our growth. I’m not a life coach, but I talk with people every day about their careers, and a key factor in people not moving forward from a professional perspective can be the limitations put on them by their team or company.

If you have aspirations to move forward in your career, to chase a higher job title, a higher salary. It will be important for you to acquire new knowledge, learn new skills, and provide more value. In the process of learning new skills and trying new things you will likely encounter challenges you have not faced before, potentially leading to failure. This will happen even more frequently in a fast moving environment, such as technology and digital teams. In these scenarios, does your company allow for such failure?

Ben Horowitz co-founded and served as president and chief executive officer of the enterprise software company Opsware. His book, ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ talks about the challenges of building a business, in particular, speaking about building successful teams where people can thrive. On speaking about culture Ben comments;

“A healthy company culture encourages people to share bad news. A company that discusses its problems freely and openly can quickly solve them. A company that covers up its problems, frustrates everyone involved”.

Ben goes on further advising companies to:

“Build a culture that rewards—not punishes—people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved”.

This is a question I pose to you; are you in a company in which the culture encourages communication and is ok with sharing bad news? To move forward and grow as a professional you need the space to try new things and not be afraid to fail. If you fail, you need the platform to share that failure openly for others to help find a solution to your problem.

Two of my current clients are working on large digital projects, and both have similar values in ‘failing fast’. With this mindset they are encouraged to try new things, test them and if they work, move forward with implementing at scale. If not, fail them fast and move on to the next project. Both of these teams are doing well from a commercial perspective and a culture perspective, providing growth for their employees.

Ben Horowitz, built Opsware to over $100 million in annual revenue, 550 employees and in July 2007, sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion in cash. He had a lot on the line but gave his employees the opportunity to take risks, holding the opinion;

“The difference between being mediocre and magical is often the difference between letting people take creative risk and holding them too tightly accountable. Accountability is important, but it’s not the only thing that’s important”.

You do not move forward with any speed as an individual or an organisation without the opportunity to make decisions. If you are hamstrung as an employee, it can not only limit your growth but you can be detrimental to the organisation. Ben outlines the negative effect it can have on a company with a lesson of his;

“An early lesson I learned in my career was that whenever a large organization attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project”.

It is clear from Ben Horowitz’s perspective that both employees and organisations will thrive in an environment that promotes decision making, gives opportunity for employees to take risk and encourages open dialogue with any failures.

To finish with, Ben says “My old boss Jim Barksdale was fond of saying, “We take care of the people, the products, and the profits — in that order.”.

If you aren’t taken care of, if you aren’t given the space to grow, your work won’t live up to your potential. If this doesn’t sound like your company, if this doesn’t sound like your team, it may be time to start an open and honest conversation with your management, or point them in the direction of the book ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’. If all else fails, there are definitely companies out there providing the platforms for their employees to succeed.