When failure is a virtue

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

In “My Losing Season,” Pat Conroy's moving memoir notes how championship teams keep the good times going. They jump up and down when the game ends. They party and have victory dinners afterward. Years later, they are still reuniting and staying in touch to reminisce.

As for teams that lose: They tend to quietly go their separate ways.

Guess you could say it's a cultural thing. We Americans love our winners. As for the losers? Not so much.

After all, Forbes doesn't publish an annual list of the poorest people it can find. Nor do television shows extol the lifestyles of the down and out. Who wants to daydream about those possibilities?

As for long-term care operators, they surely don't plan to fail. From budgeting to resource allocation, the emphasis is almost always on more revenue and operational efficiency. 

In fact, if there is one universal zero-tolerance policy in this field, it is this: Don't fail. It's almost as if failure is a disease that must be eradicated.

In some ways, the sentiment is completely understandable. After all, you won't be paying too many bills with the proceeds of people and concepts that didn't meet expectations.

But if we are going to be brutally honest, all of us have failed at many things many times — and continue to do so. But as Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas note in May's Harvard Business Review, your business can learn a lot from failure as well as from success. 

The authors were thoughtful enough to lay out a three-step plan for improving a return on failure:

• Study failed efforts and document the insights they offer about customers, markets, future trends, your organization, your operations, your team and yourself.

• Magnify the lessons of those lessons by spreading them across your organization.

• Finally, step back and do a company-wide review of your pattern of failure — to ensure your approach is delivering the benefits it should.

If you can rigorously extract valuable insights from failure, you just might end up with an even bigger payoff down the road.