Practicing Failure- The Indisputable Path to Success


You have joined as a Senior Manager- HR at XYZ and are an individual contributor. XYZ has been recognized globally for its Annual Performance Management System. Your boss (the CPO) is gunning for the top position riding this wave.

You, however have very different views on how a performance management system is to be run. You are more about frequent feedbacks, immediate course correction and basically making it agile and keeping conversations relevant.

As an exercise, you have two months to make others in your organization see merit in your thought process and then push for an overhaul of the entire performance management process! In these two months you need to discover-

  1. People’s stand on the subject and their context
  2. Lunch groups and hate networks
  3. Extracurricular networks
  4. People that come from same erstwhile organizations or functions and so on

Basically you need to find the “influence” pathways in the organization and figure out how to work them to your advantage. This process is a maze of possibilities and dead ends alike.

During the two months, you can interact with the stakeholders in multiple ways – face to face meetings, presentations, speakers, training, lunches, cricket match, and surveys and so on.

These techniques could either lead to an increase of conversion percentage or a decrease. Also something that worked in the past, simply might not work in the present. You lose time in that case and often have to trace back your steps.

This was a 90 minute simulation that I participated in earlier this month. The objective was to convert as many people to my cause. There were 10 teams playing at the same time, and the scoreboard was being refreshed every 15 minutes- the added pressure of playing to win and not just to experience!

This is no different from what we practice in real life, in real situations. Only we don’t call it what I am about to call it now- practicing failure. Without exception, all the teams at the end of the 90 minutes knew that if they had another chance they would be able to convert many more to their cause. We were much more aware of the communication channels, the lobbying networks, the ground support and the spokespersons. We had become practiced at failure; and we understood how to leverage that practice.

Organizations and employees work the same way. Practicing failure upskills like no other practice. The beauty of failure (if you are bothered by it, that is) is that it forces you to be original.

What does originality do for you?

FailureimagesWell, for starters you actually learn something that you didn’t know earlier (through the simulation, I learnt that I have a preference for influencing directly rather than lobbying my way through it). Research goes onto say that 70% of our knowledge comes from learning on the job.

But the extent to which people know how to use that knowledge is largely circumspect.

I would like to believe that originality and/ or failure forces one to use the “learning on the job”. It helps to temper the self- consciousness, and eventually discomfort gives way to a new found understanding. Now it’s obviously not as easily done.

The practice is painful. People don’t take you for an expert just because you say so; you have to demonstrate each and every time. Every time it needs a combination of skill, persistence, extraordinary effort and of course passion.

At the end of the simulation, we were one of the top 3 teams with a 49% conversion rate. My team mate Bela and I felt that given another shot, we would probably be at 80% or even higher. Fortunately for us, the corporate workspace isn’t a time bound simulation and the lessons stay with us for life. We also have the opportunity to erase past errors with remedial actions and build our own goodwill networks.

Practicing failure is therefore an indisputable path to success, provided you have figured out how to leverage that lesson.