FROM THE TOP: How should you manage a failure?

FROM THE TOP: How should you manage a failure? - In business, what do you do when the milk gets spilt? Analyse the slick after the spillage? Cry over it? Or learn the lesson? Fred Astaire suggested a three-point failure recovery programme: 'Pick yourself

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In business, what do you do when the milk gets spilt? Analyse the slick after the spillage? Cry over it? Or learn the lesson? Fred Astaire suggested a three-point failure recovery programme: 'Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.' MT canvassed a select band of leaders to see how they advise coping with a setback.

HOWARD WILKINSON - EX-ENGLAND FOOTBALL MANAGER

In football, failure is something you have to face all the time because you can't win week in, week out. Some people who say they've never failed have experienced luck, but many more are conveniently good at forgetting their failures. The best way to handle a failure is simply to learn from it and move on; taking a knock is not the end of the story, it is the beginning. But you need to take a step back and decide on a measure for what success and failure are for you. This measure must be yours and you must stick to it. If you think success is going into a game and getting a draw from it, get a draw and be pleased. Don't think you failed because you could have won it in the last five minutes. What other people think of you is something you can't control, and you must take the advice of others. But the most valuable person in your evaluation process is you.

A former Leeds United manager and now Football Association technical director, Howard Wilkinson was in charge during England's 0-0 World Cup qualifier against Finland last October.

DIANNE THOMPSON - CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CAMELOT

I don't believe many public failures have been more high-profile than the National Lottery Commission's decision last August to rule Camelot out of negotiations on the next lottery licence. Facing the media a few hours after this body-blow was one of the most difficult events of my professional career.

My disappointment turned to anger as the full impact of the decision sank in. From this feeling of injustice grew a determination to fight for fair play. If we'd had a fair hearing we would have conceded gracefully and accepted our defeat. Our failure turned to success as we were awarded the licence in December. Not all failures can be turned into successes, but I believe there are important lessons to be learnt It needn't be a case of 'pointing the finger', but people must be encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions and, if necessary, their own failures.

We must accept the possibility of failure if we are to succeed Experience has taught me that, on occasions, failure has more to teach us than success.

Dianne Thompson joined Camelot in 1997, becoming CEO last year. Previous achievements include rebranding Ratner's after 'that' speech.

JOHN STUDZINSKI - DEPUTY CHAIRMAN, MORGAN STANLEY INTERNATIONAL

If anybody at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter boasts to me that they've never failed, it tells me that they have not taken enough risk or that they may not have tried hard enough to beat the expectations of clients and colleagues. We look at failures only in the context of lessons learned and what could be done better next time: the focus is always on the future, not the past. Our 360-degree performance- evaluation process is based on formal, written feedback collected from evaluators at all levels and across divisions. It identifies developmental areas and fosters a culture of improvement by stressing the idea that it is much more important to come away from failures with lessons learned. A mistake is only a mistake if it's made twice.

John Studzinski was awarded Business in the Community's Ambassador's Award in July 2000 for his work as chairman of the Business Action on Homelessness committee. (Nominations for the 2001 awards, which recognise company and individual work in the field of corporate social responsibility, close on March 26; for further details, phone 08706 002482.) Studzinski has worked at Morgan Stanley International for the past 20 years.

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