Mentors aren’t supposed to be Sherpas carrying your heavy pack for you up the mountain but they are meant to help guide you, provide context, and offer their advice. Too often I see organizations trying to shirk their responsibility in developing future leaders by suggesting that personal development is the responsibility of the employees. Certainly the employee is responsible for taking “ownership” of their own development but that is a far cry from organizations not having any responsibility. When this gap exists it will be at the organizations own peril – they will struggle to replace departing leaders with qualified candidates and eventually they will battle with the Peter Principle.
Most business professionals who rise to the senior ranks of an organization do so because they are extremely driven and frequently very bright. And while personal drive and intelligence are what got them to this point in their career it is often times not sufficient to succeed at this level. One area that I have witnessed many leaders stumble is when their expectations don’t match the realities of their organization and their striving for excellence outpaces their team’s ability to delivery satisfactory.
There are few organizations in the world that better understand the importance of learning from our failures than the United States Armed Forces. In fact, every branch of the US military uses an After Action Review (AAR) process to analyze the successes or failures of their missions by examining what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better next time. The AAR is focused on creating a clear comparison of what were the intended results vs. the actual results.
So I thought I would take a break on this post from my usual topics of failure or innovation and instead focus on a lesson in leadership and philosophy. Last week Alan Wurtzel wrote an insightful post titled “What Circuit City Learned about Valuing Employees” for the HBR Blog. The article describes how important it is to respect your employees and give them the opportunity to grow. For the first 50 years this was a core value at Circuit City but by 2000 the company’s executives had all but eviscerated that belief and by the end of 2009 Circuit City was gone. As I read this article I kept thinking that these were some very important lessons to be learned for every retailer, especially Circuit City’s last remaining true competitor, Best Buy.
As I have been working on researching what is necessary to create a successful innovation pipeline in an organization one theme has consistently been mentioned – the necessity for strong leadership. Many involved note that Leaders who drive innovation work need to be stronger leaders and have fewer deficiencies than their peers running core business segments. Because innovation work does not share the same scorecard as core businesses it is much more difficult for innovation leaders to measure their team’s performance, understand the many roadblocks to their success, and monitor the team’s emotional state.
Almost nine years ago I had reentered the retail business after a fourteen year hiatus. The company I joined was just beginning a zealous journey to focus on the customer. The entire organization was determined to be more “customer centric” in every decision they made. They had gone so far as to identify six demographic target profiles that they were going to cater to. The goal was to get intimately familiar with each of these customer segments so that we could offer them the “best” and most appropriate goods and services. Some of those goods and services were already available but we were not aware of which customers needed them or why. In other circumstances we needed to be more innovative and seek out or create new products or service offerings. As we sought to delight the customer, we assumed that they would reciprocate by buying more or at least more profitable goods and services.
We have all seen the endless number of quotes on how we should fail more, fail quickly, and fail often but what do we actually do with all of these failures? If we are lucky we might actually take the time to learn from them but usually we quickly take stock in what happened and make a few mental notes to ensure that we don’t do it again. Rarely do we share the details of your our failures even with friends or family and we certainly would never think of revealing our failures with colleagues or perspective employers. Why do we have this inconsistency? We know that failure is a necessary part of learning and growing for both the organization and the individual but we never want to admit to our failures? If our resume is a collection of our successes… where is our failure resume?
Receive periodic email updates from Matt Hunt including his published pieces, updates on his progress, and more!