Dumb Management Speak – Let it Fail

Dumb Management Speak – Let it Fail
May 15, 2012 Derek Fournier

This is the first installment in what may become a series on this blog about stupid things people will tell you and pretend they are management wisdom. Even when I worked at Microsoft, a place where (at the time) people did a whole helluva lot correctly, I heard this phrase:

“Sometimes you gotta let something fail.”

Well I am here to tell you that is a pile of crap. If the team you work with is so bad that only complete failure will open their eyes, the problem is the team, not the thing you are struggling with. While you cannot insure that everything you work on will be a smashing success, to intentionally steer something to failure is at best stupid and at worst, criminal (maybe even literally so depending on your position and the kind of company you work for).

When I hear that you have to let something fail, I immediately think about how broken that organization is. If only complete failure is enough of a sign that something has to change, then the leadership has failed in a few key ways:

  1. Communication is broken
  2. Faith is gone
  3. Efficiency is out the window
  4. There is no sense of “team”

At the root of all of those things is a lack of TRUST.

You have heard/read me talk about how important trust is previously, but in this interaction, trust is again the lynchpin. If your team does not trust that you will listen, hear, evaluate, arbitrate and then remediate if appropriate, you are a failure as a leader.

I have heard that stories make concepts like this far more accessible, so here is a story set in the hallowed halls of Building 24 in Redmond, Washington. I was a Test Case Engineer for a product that most of you have never heard about but that was quietly earning a lot of money for the company. We were about to release a new version and many of us felt the product had not had nearly enough “real world” testing. We railed against the course of action through both public and private methods for months. There were a lot of really smart people working in this team and on this project. Sadly, the reality was that the people in power did not agree with the team , even though the team had the most knowledge. (This happens pretty regularly. We will discuss this in a future post about getting intel from the people that have the intel.)

Now, I am not known for being quiet. I am often referred to as a bull in a china shop; it is the mode of operating that makes me feel most comfortable. Well, I went to put on my bull horns and was counseled by a senior team leader that, “sometimes you just have to let things fail.”

This floored me. (It still does). I railed against it but not hard enough. Suffice it to say, the project did fail. Many people lost their jobs. Now sadly, after the failure, change came. This seemed to lend credence to that crappy management hack maxim. If you only look at results to take lessons, you would believe that.

Don’t just look to results. When you trust your team (up, down and sideways) and you know that open dialog is respected, you no longer have to simply identify problems and hope they get addressed. You will identify issues and do something crazy.

You will try to fix them.

You will fix things as early as possible. There is no scenario that I can think of where waiting for a problem to get bigger makes any logical sense. If you have a leaky faucet, you fix the leak before you ruin your cabinets. If you have an inefficient business process costing you 10% of your revenue, you fix that process fast! If you have an employee whose morale is low and who is causing an issue with customer satisfaction and co-worker morale, you address it instantly.

Action wins. Action is taken by people who are unafraid to lead.

Be unafraid.




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