Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The joys of failing - but not too badly

Quick. What's your biggest challenge at work ?

If you're like me, you probably said: People

Hiring them, training them, compensating them, keeping them motivated, making sure they grow. It goes on and on. Do it right and you can solve 80% of your problems right there. Do it wrong....and God help you.

Each one of these areas needs a lot of work. But assuming you've hired reasonably good people, the single most important thing I've learned about growing people is to find opportunities for them to fail - early and often; but not too badly.

Everyone is going to make mistakes - no one learned anything worthwhile without getting it wrong at least once. Your job, as a manager, is to make sure you oversee this learning process in a controlled way. In fact, I'd say:

Managing people is the art of letting them fail in a controlled way.

So, every once in a while, look for opportunities in which they have to stretch themselves out of their comfort zone just a little bit - and let them tackle it. If they succeed, pat them on the back, but you've probably set the bar too low. If they fail , help them figure it out and rejoice - they have just learned more than they will learn in any executive training session.

But watch out too. Set the bar too high from the current skill level and you will not get a controlled failure - you will get a catastrophe. The idea is not to set people up for failure - the idea is to keep them reaching ahead of themselves.

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