Failure, the key to operational success

Published on November 14, 2016

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By Experteq COO, Jonathan Plaskow

Technology has reshaped the business world, but the price of success is that many organisational projects fail along the way. To enhance operational excellence, leaders today need to rethink their approach to failure and embrace it as a key driver of high performance.

For too long, failure has been an unspeakable taboo in business. While it’s important to be optimistic, a realistic set of goals is vital to lifting business success – and this includes embracing failure as inevitable and learning from it.

Organisations that embrace failure are rare – yet the few who do continually outperform their competitors. Any failure that is deliberate is never acceptable, but unintentional failure can solve production errors; reduce the likelihood of risk in the future; and build a culture of high performance.

Leaders today need to create a supportive workplace culture where it’s safe for people to admit failure, learn from it, and strive to improve the next time around.

Here are 3 keys ways in which leaders can embrace failure from the top down:

1. Remove the old stereotype of failure as taboo

At every level of the organisation, leaders need to remove the old stereotype of failure as inherently ‘bad’ and shameful, promoting failure as part of life and a stepping stone to improved performance.

However, it’s also crucial to avoid an ‘anything goes’ attitude. Deliberate failure and ill intent should never be condoned. The best leaders today find a balance between allowing people to make mistakes and ensuring that performance standards are met.

2. Create a culture of collaboration, support and trust

To embrace failure, leaders firstly need to create a culture that’s accepting of human error. Leaders need to be approachable, accepting and empathetic, so that employees feel comfortable confessing their mistakes and discussing possible solutions.

Rather than pointing the finger at individuals and demanding that they fix the issue, leaders and their teams need to work together to find innovative solutions to complex problems.  In a culture where it’s safe to admit failure, people will be more engaged at work, motivated to succeed, and strive for continuous improvement. Engaged employees capable of bouncing back from failure add immense value to the workplace and help to build culture of high performance.

3. Unpeel the layers: look beyond superficial failure

Because failure sometimes stems from upper layer management, it can be emotionally tough for leaders to acknowledge. In many cases, mistakes are made when there is a lack of clear communication and understanding of the ‘bigger picture’ amongst leaders and their teams.

When there is a project failure, leaders need to look beyond superficial errors and assess deeper organisational structures. Keep an open mind about what went wrong, why, who was responsible and what can be done to rectify the problem, both immediately and as a preventative measure for the future. Treat each failure as a piece of wisdom for building a more transparent, collaborative and high-performing workforce.


Leading organisations today embrace failure as a key learning, challenging the old stereotype of failure as inherently ‘bad’. To enhance operational excellence in the long-term, treat each failure as a stepping stone to continuous improvement.

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