Opportunity & Learning from Failure

We can learn a lot from failure.  We can learn from our mistakes and from poor decision making.  I watched my daughter (my CMO) take her first steps bravely removing her hands from my living room sofa only to fall and fall hard.  She learned a valuable lesson that day while nearly breaking my heart. She learned that one must have proper balance and be deeply rooted into the floor as it provides foundation.  Did she give up?  No, and neither should you.  She saw opportunity in failure and I’ve never been more proud of her.

Poor Decision Making & Learning From Our Mistakes

As managers in our organizations we are often quick to move to termination of our employees when they don’t meet our goals or expectations.  Sometimes without cause or even conversation.  As a human resource director in an organization my role is to ask the tough questions of the manager and double check to ensure employees are given the proper opportunity to learn from their mistakes and understand the consequences while evaluating our company’s employment law liability.  Helping both managers and their employees find opportunities for learning, growth, passion, and possibilities in failure.

Making Mistakes and Learning from Them

During one of my HR investigations prior to giving my approval to terminate an employee, I uncovered a potential situation.  Something wasn’t right.  The employee had not been meeting performance expectations.  There were a series of documented conversation in coaching logs and signed write ups.  On the surface, things looked as they should.  For this sales position, it was relatively easy to demonstrate when an employee was not meeting the required production standards.  A portion of the employee’s pay was tied to their performance as was their supervisor’s.  Giving both parties incentive to succeed.

One of the dates of the coaching logs did not sync up.  It was a Saturday and not a scheduled work day at the office.  I looked at past conversations and many of them were inconsistent.  Often logged as weekend conversations when they most certainly should not.  What I found was far more disappointing.

This manager had very high production on his team and he was highly compensated.  If an employee was terminated during a quarter, the manager was not responsible for the terminated employee’s production quotas.  Terminations were always high near the end of the quarter, but this manager did not move to terminate until always the very last minute.

An Opportunity to Learn from Failure

As a human resource director, we have an opportunity to work with employees of all levels.  Some of them are star performers, some are middle of the road, and some are just not.  So if an employee is not meeting production standards and quotas, who’s failure really is it?  And is it an opportunity to learn from a situation better or worse.

Sadly, I moved to terminate not the employee but the manager for falsifying records and employee documentation.  Instead of seizing the opportunity to communicate, he failed to coach and train them.  A missed opportunity for the manager’s manager, his employees both past and present.

Terminations and decisions like these are never easy.  My hope is that all parties involved learned that the real failure is to not seize the opportunity.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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  1. […] The key in creating a corporate culture focused on high achievement doesn’t come from the learning curve employees and their teammates face but in how they learn and work together during their failures.  It’s the low points, not the high points that create a high performance team.  Or as Robert Sutton, a Professor at Stanford University says, “Failure sucks but instructs.” […]