By John Williams                                                                                         July 31, 2018


We are creatures of habit, and we like to surround ourselves with the familiar; things, methods and people that we identify with, and things that we are comfortable with. Last year, I wrote about how important organizational culture is at Powell Strategies. I wrote about how we embrace our culture as an organization to ensure our culture remains rooted. We discuss it and we jealously guard it.


We are also an organization of Type-a personalities who take charge and like to do things the right way, the first time.


We live and work in a complex environment. Nobody gets it right all the time; not employees and not the boss. Mistakes happen, things are dropped and sometimes we fall short of goals and expectations. Back in the day I had a coach whose mantra was, “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough.” There are a hundred variations on that same theme, for sure, but what they all have in common is, if an individual or an organization operates by that mantra, it is probably a good outfit that gets a lot done, no matter how often people stumble.


This is a good place to pause at this point and be clear – while failure isn’t acceptable, you must know it will happen at some point. When it does happen, the important thing is how you handle it, which reflects your organizational culture.


When I first started Powell Strategies, we supported a client working for the federal government. It was challenging, exacting work that required us to report progress every couple of days. A couple weeks into the project I received a call from the project manager asking me when my team was going to start reporting their results. Come to find out, the person I hired to do the work was treating the job like a paid vacation.


As a very young company, this misstep could have broken us. Reputation is everything, and trust is nearly impossible to earn once lost. We recovered and are still going strong as a company, and regularly work with this same client. Here is what we learned that is worth sharing:


1. Own it. Whether you are the CEO or have only been with the company for a week, own the failure. Take the blame and get on with finding a solution.

2. Figure out the roots of what caused the failure and fix it. Don’t reinforce failure.

3. Adjust accordingly. The plan going forward must be better than the plan that got you there.

4. Get ready to work harder. Do the best work you are capable of.

5. Without embarrassing anyone unnecessarily, share the lessons learned.


Failure is more painful than poetic – some mistakes cause real damage. Nonetheless, how you react to the mistake reflects your culture, and is key to organizational growth.


When faced with failure, become a creature of habit: square your shoulders, identify the problem, adjust the plan and execute.