As a business owner, I have a strong urge to do things right. To serve my clients’ needs, to make sure that projects run smoothly, that we’re building a connection with the community, and helping tell startup stories through compelling and professional pitch decks. And, I am not going to lie, I am a perfectionist. I will spend extra time on a slide making sure that all of the text is lined up – EXACTLY. I’ll notice the difference in two blues from a mile away. And in client delivery, that’s great. It ensures I am serving my customers fully. But, in other ways that urge to “do things right” to not “make a mistake” can be a hindrance to success. In fact, I’ve come to realize that in building a business, finding failure is actually the GOAL, not the thing to be avoided. Here’s why…
FAILURE = PROBLEMS = OPPORTUNITY
If your looking to make things better, to improve the lives of your customers, or streamline your internal processes so you can reduce the time/effort/cost to deliver your product, then you are actually looking for failure. Improving something inherently means that you’ve decided that it needs improvement. What needs improvement? Things that are broken, that are not right, that are not perfect. So really, making something better (which let’s be honest is every entrepreneur and startup’s goal when you get down to it) is in effect finding failures. Those failures are the opportunity to make things better. We’re seeking them out, and we should be overjoyed when we find or notice them. When our clients are facing difficulty using a new tool for project management, we should be overjoyed not horrified. This is now an opportunity to make that part of working with us even better. It’s a chance for meaningful engagement and a quick win if we can resolve the problem fast.
CREATING PROBLEMS AND FAILURE POINTS
Continuous improvement means that we’re constantly looking for new things to fix. Eventually the obvious problems have been fixed and now we’re creating new problems to solve. Now, by creating problems, I am obviously not meaning we drop the lamp on the ground so that we can glue the pieces back together. Of course, that’s a waste of time and resources. But, as a startup founder, you are going to be creating new problems for yourself every day. In fact, most of our strategic pitch deck work really lies in getting to the root of how our client solves their customer’s problems.
Problems are the very nature of business and of the work that we all do as startup owners and managers. Once the ball starts rolling and you move forward through your company’s launch and growth, new things come up, new issues and problems to resolve. It’s a constant battle to decide which problems to trade for new ones and working towards greater efficiency. In a perfect world it wouldn’t be a constant emotional battle that we keep finding new problems. We would expect and embrace them; building systems to better to manage the change.
The technology and processes that improve efficiency create more steps and complexity. You set up a stellar website? Great! Now how do you get people to it? You’ve got viewers? Great! Now how do you get them to buy? You’ve got buyers? Great! Now how do you rein in your costs so that your profitable. Etc. Etc. On and on. The work is never done. #Startuplife. Right?
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
So what I have often struggled with (and I’d love to hear if you have too!) Is the balance of wanting things to be done right, of wanting things to be good, of wanting things to be perfect today, while at the same time, wanting things to be better, of wanting to root out and resolve the problems in my business, in finding my own failures and flaws, and fixing them. It’s taken me a long time, and a lot of concentrated effort to feel the opportunity in the failure.
Some tactics I have used to make this work for me:
- Step 1: See the failure
- Step 2: Inevitably cringe or freak out
- Step 3: Remind yourself that hind-sight is 20-20
- Step 4: Be happy
- Step 5: Take mitigating action if necessary
- Step 6: Think about how to fix it
- Step 7: Execute on the solution
Step 1: See the failure. This in-and-of-itself is hard sometimes. Especially if it is a problem you have been dealing with for a long time and have just made work-arounds for. Proactively root those out and reassess what can be done to make them better. This is more an assessment of the organization as opposed to reactive management.
Your team’s perspective is a good starting point because removing what is in their way will immediately improve the organization’s performance and ability to work together as a team. As a leader it’s important to have a good handle on all the critical operational and financial components, but the customer experience is where you can gain the most improvement in increased sales and loyalty.
Where is your system not supporting your customers? Is it hard for someone to buy your product? You can see how we’ve created systems for our customers to buy our products in response to attempting to make the entire buying process easier – Pitch Deck Pricing. Before, customers only had one option and they had to wait 24 hours to find out more about project costs and timing. Now, we have set package options and our clients can more easily gauge what works for their needs.
Always looking out for the customer’s experience is the best way to ensure you are focused on the right problems. They should have early input into product development and built-in avenues for ongoing engagement so you can stay focused.
Step 2: Inevitably cringe or freak out
Depending on the severity of the failure and it’s affect on our business & customers, your reaction may differ across a spectrum that ranges from a slight pang to “You Idiot!” all the way to your “full body cringe” (all internal dialogue of course). Although uncomfortable and humbling, it’s OK to feel embarrassed about the failure and be mad at yourself for a moment for not preventing it. Get it out. This is where most improvement starts and you can recognize opportunities when you feel this way. Sometimes this is the first step to noticing something is wrong.
Step 3: Remind yourself that hind-sight is 20-20.
It seems obvious now, but when you were making the mistake it wasn’t so clear. Was it the first time? Do you have a system in place now? Things change, you’re view point changed, information has changed. You couldn’t have known better before. But you can start to game film it now and look at what might make next time better – Think about the process that led to this mistake.
Step 4: Be happy.
You now have an opportunity to make this better. You’ve found something to solve, to improve. This is an exciting moment, and not one that everyone (your colleagues, competitors, etc.) has the insight or chance to benefit from. If you weren’t trying you wouldn’t be learning, growing, and adapting – and you wouldn’t be making mistakes or losing business. Be happy you are on the cutting edge where things aren’t necessarily easy, but they are very rewarding.
Step 5: Take mitigating action if necessary.
Be humble. Apologize. Let people know. But take action! I had a partner refer a client to me once, and 3 months later reach back out and ask if I’d ever spoken to them. I was horrified, we’d switched to a new CRM system that week and the email was lost and follow up forgotten. All you can do is profusely apologize, be honest, and be ready to deliver with confidence. The worst mistake here is inaction or hiding. Hiding from failure doesn’t create an improvement oriented environment and if it happened once, it will most likely happen again. Better to act now and find out what works and what doesn’t.
Step 6: Think about how to fix it.
Identify causes of the failure. Evaluate potential solutions and weigh against the cost and time to implement vs. the pain your business or clients feel when facing the problem. Make actions towards improvement and have your team focused on this during weekly meetings. This is a great way to demonstrate your leadership and build your team by leading the way and guiding them through the process.
Step 7: Execute on the solution.
The most important step. Implement the new tool/process/action to solve the failure point. And watch to see that the same failure does not happen again. Look out for related problems and fix those. What is your follow through and how are you planning the quality assurance program once the initial change is made? Focus on continuous improvement and building great processes to support the long term solution.
Of course – Nothing will ever be perfect and not only is it silly to expect it to be, but it is holding you back. Find and celebrate your failures. Then fix them. If you aren’t successful the first time, take a second and try again.
Actually make it a point to not have it be perfect. Try it. For me it is near impossible. Clearly perfectionist is my strength in delivery, but what got me here might not get me there.
And lastly, expect problems and look for bigger ones to solve. The more you create systems underneath it all, the bigger problems your business and your people can solve.
Send me your startup or business management thoughts – I would love to hear how you’ve dealt with failure, perfectionism, or problem solving in your startup. Please share in the comments below!