The Fine Line Between Successful and Failing Organizations
The single common thing that sets a failing organization from a successful one is when managers consistently make decisions. Successful organizations never make conservative decisions and aren’t afraid of failure. When done correctly, failure can move a company forward.
The Single Common Key to A Successful Organization
Every entrepreneur knows it requires a lot to start a business- a market need, courage, and grit. But what does a company need to grow from a small start-up and become a successful long-term organization?
Many have asked: What is the secret to a successful organization? When founders are asked on the popular podcast, “How I Built This”, there are typically a few common answers, but all reside around similar themes.
Many reflective founders attribute success to one big decision they were confronted with earlier in the company’s growth. These decisions may include:
- Finding the right financial partner (in private equity, with a debtor, partnering with a new co-owner)
- Hiring the right CEO or new leadership
- Joining with a key distributor or partnership
Other founders attribute success to the right choice on several successive quintessential events. Other founders will say that ‘they just got lucky’ or ‘they were in the right place at the right time.’
And while these things may be accurate, there is a more concrete, simple answer to the single common key to a successful organization. The line between a successful and failing organization might be finer than you even think. The solution is available to all founders and doesn’t require luck or a big decision. So what is the key?
Just Move Forward and Upward
When I was 15 years old, I went on an overnight backpacking trip with ten girls in an after school group joined by four adults. Though I had never gone backpacking, I had spent many hours on trails in the mountains and loved being outside. I was excited! With a backpack full of sleeping gear, clothes, and dehydrated food, we eagerly started up into the mountains. About a half-mile in, and to my dismay, the leaders decided this would be an educational trip and began teaching us the names of the trees and clouds. I rolled my eyes and said, “I thought this was supposed to be fun! I don’t want to learn”.
About 6 miles and too many facts about nature later, we arrived at a beautiful mountain lake. Our leaders announced that just on the other side would be where we would be camping. “Finally,” I thought, “now we can have some fun.”
“Okay, everyone! Put down your gear. We’re going to learn how to use compasses!” one leader announced.
After a short training, the adults divided us into groups and assigned us a specific period of time to work the compasses and arrive back at the campsite. At first, we felt like we had a solid read of the compass and were successfully making our way back to the campsite until we approached the bottom of a small hill. It didn’t feel familiar at all. We wandered around until we realized we didn’t know how to get back to the campsite and the compasses weren’t helping. We were afraid.
It’s common wilderness knowledge that when lost, it’s important to stay put. However, at that moment, it seemed pointless to stop. How would they ever find us? One of the girls instead declared that we should climb up a nearby hill and get a new perspective. She led that way as we ascended the hill. We moved forward and upward. As we approached the top, we were amazed at what we saw on the other side: the lake with the campsite right behind it!
It turns out that we were never actually that far away from the goal the whole time. We had just got a little turned around. We were in our heads and stalled. Instead of being stuck, we decided to keep moving forward and to continue making decisions even when we didn’t know the outcome. Doing this had the potential to wear us out and get us more lost, but we were able to gather more information by moving forward.
Though I didn’t want to learn anything on this fun backpacking trip, I learned a fundamental lesson that day that stuck with me: no matter what situation you’re in, always keep moving upward and forward.
So, how does this relate to the single common key to a successful organization?
This is the single common key to success. Getting a company off the ground requires persistence, resolving each problem that you encounter, and pushing towards your vision. Always keep making decisions that move the company forward and upward.
Consistent Decision Making
Making consistent decisions that enable an organization to progress forward and upward is the key to success. Determining whether a decision is right or wrong isn’t as crucial as just deciding. Every day, week, month, year, there are many decisions made that impact our long term success. These choices affect our lives. When we think too hard about whether an option is right or not without knowing the realistic long term effects, we inhibit ourselves and our company by postponing decisions or not making decisions at all.
Professor at Kellogg School of Management, Dr. Dashun Wang, found that it is not always about making the “right decision every time” but that it’s about, even when decisions are wrong, how a person handles failure. Not every decision we make is coming to be the best one for our company, yet we can decide how we react to it. Dr. Wang said, “Failure is an option, and sometimes it’s a better one.”
Jack Welch, former head of GE, agrees with this statement on failure. He said, “[At GE], we reward failure.” He felt that every person needed to learn “that it’s not a disgrace to fail… You must analyze each failure to find its cause… You must learn how to fail intelligently. Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails forward toward success.”
Within our companies, there is no need to fear failure. Instead, we should fear being stagnant and not making decisions at all. Without a clear vision of the future, it is impossible to make a successful decision every single time. Perhaps that’s the benefit of consistent decision making.
How To Learn From Failure
Though failing intelligently is a crucial aspect of a successful organization, there is a difference between thoughtful failures and failures that have the potential to bring the downfall of our organizations. We need to be careful.
How do we increase our chances of success? How do we teach our teams to learn from failure?
Managers must understand the proper way to handle failure.
Blaast CEO, James Agnew, in a recent LinkedIn post shared, “I learned from an early age that if I got a bad grade in school, a bad score in a game, and later a bad performance review at work, to post that “scorecard” in an open place that I would see every day – like the door into my room or office. It’s motivation to keep striving to get better.” For Agnew, these moments of success became his motivators.
Understanding our own personal failures can motivate us to try new things. It can also help us realize where our own personal grit grew from. It can expand our thought process. Once we grasp this, we can help others understand the importance of failures as well. Managers have many resources in understanding the proper way to handle failure, including but not limited to:
- Evaluating own personal situations where failure provided a lesson for success
- Evaluating company failure stories and how it helped the organization move forward
- Reading books about the power of failure such as “Life is Yours to Win” by Augie Garrido or “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey
- Listening to podcasts detailing the essential keys of turning failure to success
Managers must teach the proper way to handle failure in 1-on-1’s, weekly meetings, and other training opportunities.
1-on-1 meetings provide a way for managers to individually check-in with their employees, talk about successes and failures, train, and evaluate goals. These personal meetings are essential to a company’s success. Within companies, employees need to progress towards individual objectives as well as company OKRs. “Each company should have 1-on-1 weekly meetings to assess the situation and continue to make progress. Follow-ups not only allow employees to reset and align their goals, but it will grant them an opportunity to share their success and receive praise from their employers, keeping engagement high.”
Managers need to understand that goals are part of a process of ongoing improvement. Goals provide a way for companies to make short and long term decisions consistently. In a recent Blaast blog about OKRs, we explored how “goals are critical to [a company’s] success. Goals provide a clear objective to work towards and, when done correctly, equips people to track their progress and achieve extraordinary things.”
Whether it be during 1-on-1, weekly, or other sessions, managers should educate employees about how failure is sometimes the better option during company meetings. There is a lot to learn through failure. When this process goes untaught, employees begin avoiding failure, building a culture of conservative decisions. This kind of decision making can be more detrimental to an organization’s success because they limit the company’s gain, growth, and grit. These essential company attributes develop from learning from acute company failure. Employees and managers alike should never be afraid of failure. That is the fine line.
The Fine Line Between Successful and Failing Organizations
What makes some organizations more successful than others? It’s an important lesson I learned when I was 15 years old on an overnight backpacking trip: consistent decision making. Never make conservative decisions. Don’t be afraid to fail forward towards success. The best thing we can do for our company is to make decisions that move the company forward and upward, even if that means we’re not always making the most “successful” or “correct” decisions along the way.
Managers need to understand the value of consistent decision making and additionally need to understand the proper way to handle failure. Once managers understand the greatness of failure, they need to teach their employees likewise, so they also understand and embrace failure. When failure isn’t feared, extraordinary progress can be made. Getting a company off the ground requires persistence, resolving each problem encountered, and pushing towards the company’s vision. Becoming and staying a successful long-term organization requires consistent decision making and understanding the value of failure.
That is the single common key to a successful organization. This will enable success.
What Do You Think?
We’d love to hear about what personal or company failures have ultimately led you or your company to more significant success. How do you consistently make decisions even when the future is unclear? Let us know!