Published October 18, 2012
Oct. 18 is Evaluate Your Life Day, and while most of us probably don’t need a special day to reflect on our work/life progress, or lack of it—it’s a good reminder that regular self-assessment itself is an important goal.
Experts agree that self-assessments are key to living a fulfilling life, but we mislabel a perceived failure as a negative term.
Much public attention is paid to people who are highly successful, says Siimon Reynolds, a high-performance business coach and author of Why People Fail. “There’s a tendency to make success look easy which creates a huge problem: People end up believing that because they do not measure up, they have failed.”
“Let yourself off the hook,” says Reynolds. People who get to the top typically have had more failures than successes. “We ought to start championing people who fail intelligently…who fail forward.”
He continues to say that people who are not afraid of failure constantly seek it out and become expert at learning from it. “We need to demystify the structure of success and expose it for what it is: a huge amount of failed attempts with occasional successes.”
But unfortunately, many people in the trenches fail to see failure as a gift largely because of the workplace pressure to perform in the short term—a view perpetuated by the performance review trap, says Laurence Weinzimmer, professor of management at Bradley University and co-author of The Wisdom of Failure. “Personal growth from mistakes is an evolutionary process.”
A fear that mistakes will be detrimental to their careers makes people sweep missteps under the rug instead of embracing and learning from them. Even worse, says Weinzimmer, fear makes people risk averse, which limits innovation and leads to stagnation and inertia.
“Our culture does not set expectations for continuous learning,” says Reynolds. This stultifies many people. “They reach a skill level and stop. This puts a limit on what they do.”
What’s more, a focus on perfectionism lulls leaders into concentrating on efficiency rather than effectiveness, says Weinzimmer.
Asking difficult questions
Most of the time during the evaluation process we focus too much on efficiency and over look effectiveness.
Because most leaders don’t want to broach effectiveness, 90% of planning efforts focus on efficiency. “It doesn’t make the brain hurt,” says Weinzimmer. When leaders take the path of least resistance, they can become really efficient at doing the wrong thing—of attacking the low hanging fruit instead of thinking strategically. “On a day-to-day basis this can threaten a corporation’s existence. Institutions become so concerned with process they lose track of moving forward.”
When corporations establish cultures that are safe and do not punish mistakes, employees are encouraged to ask questions, seek out help and acknowledge when a particular strategy or project is not producing the originally designated objective.
Eli Lilly, for example, hosts internal research-and-development-focused outcome celebrations in its research and development division each quarter to share key scientific learnings in early stage, Phase l and Phase 2, assets. These are either successful for safety and efficacy for their primary indication and can advance to the next pipeline stage—or conversely fail to meet these objectives.
Celebrations include robust question-and-answer sessions to encourage continuous learning. Even if a molecule doesn’t show signs of meeting targets for its primary indication, it opens up the conversation for other potential areas of investigation, says Christine Van Marter, R & D communications director.
“High-quality data enables us to make decisions quickly to advance to the next stage or stop immediately. “To continue on a path that is not showing the appropriate signal for its target would be detrimental for patients and the evolution of medicine.
Tips to help you avoid the stigma of failure:
Begin your day in the right state of mind. In the morning get a clear vision of what you want to achieve; talk positively to yourself and commit to enjoy the day. A morning ritual of four-to-five mental exercises takes only a few minutes and you’ll walk into work strong, optimistic and motivated.
Adopt a self-empowered, self-controlled mindset. Admittedly it is more difficult to work and thrive in a negative workplace culture, but Reynolds says regardless of how people around you behave, demonstrate optimism, high performance and leadership.
Practice deliberate persistence. Push the boundaries of your ability, says Reynolds. This will accelerate learning.
Take a barometer of your day’s performance. Overlooking this review can lead to making the same mistakes repeatedly. Corporations should adopt a similar practice, says Reynolds, and analyze every major client meeting, sales presentation etc., even ones with ostensibly successful outcomes. Look at every step to determine if it could subsequently be improved.
Celebrate mini-milestones. There is a dire shortage of celebration among executives, says Reynolds. Patting yourself on the back lifts self-esteem keeps you motivated. “If you’re waiting for just that great success, you’ll wait for years.”
Avoid dysfunctional harmony. This stifles healthy differences of opinion, says Weinzimmer, and can lead to passive/aggressive team behavior. “Coopetition” rejects compromise and instead fosters collaboration, or people working together toward effective solutions.
Behave as a mentor. Modeling appropriate behavior as a leader helps subordinates learn appropriate behaviors and fosters a safe and innovative culture, says Weinzimmer