Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Taking Risk and Overcoming Failure to Find Solutions to Quality Challenges


On ASQ’s Blog, President Paul Borawksi asks if you are willing to take risk to find solutions to quality challenges:

And, I want to know how you—the quality professional–handle failure in the workplace. Do you try again until you find a solution? Are you penalized for failure? Or do you avoid it altogether? How much risk are you willing to take to find solutions to quality challenges?

To err is completely human, so you should not be afraid of the mistakes you may make and of course, you should never hide them. Nobody likes to make mistakes. However, the simple reality of life is that at some point, all of us are going to be wrong. That’s just life. We are going to make mistakes.

Treat every mistake as an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t feel stupid or doomed forever just because you failed at something. You can always find other opportunities.
A colleague of mine always said, “Learn to fail quickly.” Essentially, if you are going to fail you need to learn to do it quickly in order to get the data (results) that you can use to gradually improve. The faster you get at learning from unforeseen circumstances and outcomes, the faster you can find a solution that truly adds value.

If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not improving. Henry Ford said, “Failure is merely an opportunity to begin again knowledgeably.” Failure can be an inevitable stepping-stone to great achievement.

Fear of failure is a genuinely scary thing for many people, and often the reason that individuals do not attempt the things they would like to accomplish. But the only true failure is failure to make the attempt. If you don't try, you gain nothing, and life is too short a thing to waste.

But to have success, management must create an environment where it is safe to fail. Failure is an expected part of the process of finding solutions. If workers feel that they have to “hit one out of the park” every time they come up with an improvement idea, they will be reluctant to provide their ideas. In a Lean environment, failure and success should be met with the same level of enthusiasm and support.

As a supervisor, you should work to create an environment where improvements are encouraged and failures are embraced. An environment where ideas are continually tested and then those that work are adopted. This cycle of continually learning and improving is at the heart of Toyota’s success.

Management needs to establish an environment where failure is acceptable. Failures can either destroy or advance our goals, but it's our response to them that truly determines the outcome. If we are too afraid of failure to try then we will never know if we can improve our situation.

I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own. 


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