Evaluating the experience
BUSINESS MATTERS BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - September 20, 2020 - 12:00am

“Fail fast, succeed sooner.”

When you fail, does this automatically bring you to success the next time? Sooner? What is the basis for this assumption? Sometimes “motivational clichés” without proper context becomes illogical.

“If at first, you don’t succeed, try again.” I do not think so. You must first figure out why you failed.

“Experience is the best teacher!”

Not necessarily, some people and organizations commit the same mistake though they have had the experiences. Perhaps if “experience” is their best teacher, they were absent in class. Experience is not the best teacher, only evaluated experiences are.

I guested on a TV business talk show. Off-camera, I told the host that I cringe every time I hear a speaker in a business program uses “super-new-agey” expressions that seem nice, but are devoid of meaning and sense. The talk show host laughed so hard and said: “Yes Francis, words like “We need to meditate and look deep into ourselves.” I could not resist and commented: “Yes, if I look deep into myself, I will see nothing but internal organs.” and I heard a blast of laughter even from the technical people zooming from another place.

We sometimes fail in business or projects, and that is a fact. But in many cases, after the project fails, teams or organizations move forward to the next one. They do not do a postmortem, perhaps morale is affected. Maybe the harsh words of reprimand and scolding of the leader have demotivated the team, they just went on to work more, or even work harder. There is a failure to seize the opportunity and convert them into growth moments for the team. This should have been done, and the leader should facilitate the process.

In doing a postmortem, the idea is not to point fingers and assign blame. The process can be painful and uncomfortable, but it has to be done. Leaders should approach the session not with a cavalier attitude as if this is just another one of those “required processes” they have to do, neither are they to display a position of an old-school high school principal poised to inflict punishment or dish out disciplinary actions on the guilty.

Here is what to do:

1. State the objective for the conversation.

Start the conversation by expressing the desire for everyone to learn not just to avoid making the same mistake in the future but also as a platform to prepare for future growth. Reassure the team that the procedure is NOT a trial of competence but a discovery of future growth areas.

2. Create a safe environment and offer reassurances.

Reiterate that the conversations and opinions are safe and would not be used against them. Provide an opportunity for every member of the team to express their views.

3. Ask questions.

The conversation becomes more productive but not by the leader presenting a monologue and then expressing “motivational clichés.” The effectiveness comes when the leader asks the following questions and encourages everyone to participate.

A. Think back to the very start of the situation. Why in your opinion, are we not able to meet expectations?

This line of question is to ensure that the team is consistent with their story even though at first, there would be different perspectives presented. This question intends to arrive at a shared understanding of what led to the failure to hit the mark.

B. What learnings can we derive from this experience?

From the shortcomings, you can now institutionalize the learning to prevent the same mistakes next time. You are now actually evaluating the experience in its most effective moment, whether the answers you get involve miscommunications, structural, or systems failure, the team needs to comprehend where things went wrongfully.

C. If you come face to face with a similar situation, what would you now do differently?

At this point, you are gathering their thoughts and mining their ideas. Permit them to do so without fear of rejection or ridicule. As a leader, you would not permit anyone in the team to disrespect others during this process. Encourage them to say the truth no matter how uncomfortable this would be.

How you handle failure as a leader sets the tone and the culture whether the team will take risks, account for their mistakes, learn from their shortcomings and become stronger and better, ready to take on even more challenges in the future. Failure moments are learning opportunities that would build you, your team and organization on the road to growth and success. Failure is not fatal – but the failure to learn from it and improve will make it fatal. This is not a cliché; it is a fact and a certainty.

(Connect with Francis Kong at www.facebook.com/franciskong2. Or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 DZFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch’, the classical music station.)

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