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Businesses are Built on Failure

Failure. Failure. Failure. We're all familiar with it, but few of us claim it as a friend. When was the last time you failed at something and said, "Well, I'm glad that was unsuccessful!"? How many large companies and "Forbes Richest Individuals" constantly tout their failures and mistakes? Why, the very nature of Business Continuity is how to navigate failure and minimize its effects! In modern culture, failure is not looked at as our friend and counselor, and is treated as needing to be avoided at all costs.

Yet, look around. Small businesses are facing an unprecedented onslaught, with not only market challenges due to COVID, but even remarkably widespread government backed assaults on the livelihoods of small business owners and employees! With their actions, federal, state, and local governments are actively pushing YOUR small business toward failure!

Have you ever seen a successful person or business that never made a mistake? Beyond the impacts of outside events like natural disasters and government intervention, companies have failures all the time through their own actions. The most successful companies and people in the world fail frequently and consistently:

  • products that fail in the marketplace

  • services that fail to meet the needs of users

  • communications that alienate or offend different segments of the population

  • software releases and updates that negatively impact user devices and experiences

  • founding businesses that die and having to start new businesses

  • business models built on products or services that get regulated away

Failures happen because not a single one of us can exactly predict the future. Think you're good at accurately predicting the future? Then I'd love to know how much money you made predicting 2020!

Failures are learning experiences, and failures are to be acknowledged and examined and utilized to make ourselves and our companies better. Failures give us a chance to see where our approach, where our processes, and where our reactions to those failures, can be changed and adapted for the better. Failures are our opportunities to do better.

Let's look at 3 common failure modes for businesses:

Failures in our approach

Failures in our approach give us the opportunity to reevaluate how we set-up ourselves, and our businesses, to deal with the vagaries the world will throw at us. Do you have a standby approach to situations? Does it work for every situation? Has it worked for every phase of your life or your businesses life?

While we all have a baseline way of approaching life, that approach can be adjusted and expanded to cope with ever changing world and business environments. When you find that your approach to something failed, take the time to step back and analyze why it failed. What about your approach wasn't suitable for that failed situation?

Taking the time to reexamine your approach to a given situation after a failure is a great way to build flexibility into your approach for future situations. Think of your approach as a tool box, with a variety of options for dealing with different situations depending on what is needed. And when you're through the failed situation, there's a great chance you'll have added another useful tool to that toolbox!

Failures in Our Processes

Processes are critical to both the successes, and failures, of all businesses. And the good news is, processes are the easiest of failures to fix! Often, the biggest challenge to fixing a process failures is the 3rd type of failure we'll cover below, Failure in our Reaction, so knowing that, let's focus on how to utilize process failures.

First of all, let's recognize that every business process will fail at some point in time. Whether by natural events or forces imposed on you from markets and governments, it will happen. There are too many variables in your business, the market, and regulatory agencies to allow for any given process to work perfectly 100% of the time. And that's OK! When you have a process failure, you have a great opportunity to look at the input and output variables for that process to see if they are still applicable to your current business needs. Has the process stagnated while the needs of your customers, employees, and stakeholders has changed?

Chances are your business needs have changed since the process was originally implemented, so instead of looking at the failure as a time to find blame, look at it as a time to update your process to meet your current and future business needs to continue growing your business. And as an additional benefit, you now have up-to-date information on where gaps in your continuity and crisis planning are located, allowing you to address them directly to prevent future similar events. You're winning!

Failures in Our Reactions

The way we react to failure is a bright shining star into how well we will be able to deal with an ever changing world. Psychological science continuously reinforces the principle that we judge our own reactions to situations based on our intentions instead of our actions, while judging others based on their actions assuming they have bad intentions. And we've all had plenty of opportunities to monitor our reactions to unplanned/unexpected challenges to our businesses this last year.

So the first step in identifying a failure in our reaction, emphasis on "our", as in "your own" reaction, is realizing that our reaction may not have been appropriate to the situation. Take a few minutes and put yourself in the shoes of other people involved in the situation, and think through how you would have acted if you were faced with the same set of circumstances they faced at that time. Once you've taken time to look at the scenario through the eyes of others, you'll be ready to address your own reaction, and have a baseline from which to improve for the future.

Once you have your baseline, make note of what you did well, and also of what you did poorly. And get feedback on these from others involved. Utilizing your internal and external feedback, take some time each month to do a mental walkthrough of your reaction failure, as well as imagining yourself in other stressful/crisis situations. Imagine how you would react, and imagine how you think you should react. By going through these mental exercises, you'll be training yourself to have a better reaction to the next crisis, and you'll be building your mental toughness in a constructive way.

In Conclusion

I know it's both cliche to say that failures are simply opportunities in disguise. And I know that it's difficult to keep that viewpoint in the middle of a crisis. Speaking from experience with my own struggles in such situations, I know the challenges of maintaining such a view at all times.

My hope is that this information will prove helpful for you, and that you'll be able to access it when you need it. No matter what happens in the heat of the moment of a crisis situation, including these tactics in your post-incident review process will put you in a much better position for the next crisis, and reduce not only your stress in the situation, but improving your outcomes by reducing the time, effort, and/or cost of the incident.

Here at Everyday Business Resilience Group, we're ready to work alongside you to prepare your business for catastrophe, and ensure that you're business is empowered and prepared for any failure, and able to utilize that failure not as an opportunity to secure your growth. Contact us for all of your Business Continuity expertise needs.

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