3 Tips for Dealing with the Skeletons in Your Closet
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Think of one of your company's biggest mistakes, a blunder that left you and your employees feeling bruised and wary.
Maybe you invested a lot in a homepage overhaul that ended up killing sales or you teamed up with another business that didn’t do its share of the work. Such negative experiences often leave companies nervous and wary of repeating the mistake, sometimes preventing similar projects that would benefit the business.
Last year, Fracture, a small business that prints digital photos onto glass, partnered with a daily deal company as a way to market their product. "We got 3,000 orders in four weeks and it just overwhelmed us," says Matthew Bivens, marketing director at Fracture. "Our turnaround time went from three weeks to three months."
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Even though Fracture is still looking to spread brand awareness, they now shy away from daily deals. New employees often suggest them, not realizing the history. "They didn’t go through the trenches," Bivens says. "(Those suggestions are) met with these stares and shaking of the head."
If your company has past mistakes that still inspire shudders -- skeletons in the closet, so to speak -- here are three steps to put them to rest and move on.
1. Revisit what happened and why. If a past mistake prevents your employees from taking on a project that could help your business, then you want to give them a way to overcome the aversion. To do that, start by revisiting the experience and clearly outlining each of the problems that arose.
Naming specific and tangible reasons for the failure, versus ambiguous or abstract ones, will help lessen the fear. When your employees see that the problems are discrete and understandable, they will feel more comfortable trying again with a new approach.
2. Approach the problem from a new angle. When we fear repeating a past negative outcome, it makes us more likely to choose options that feel safe over risky or innovative choices. To help your employees feel comfortable trying a similar project again, you need to show them that a different outcome is possible.
To do that, find solutions to each of the problems you encountered the first time and take an entirely different approach when you try again. For example, if Fracture did another daily deal, Bivens says he would structure it differently, charge for shipping, and control the scope. Specific changes that address the issues from the first attempt will help ensure that you don’t repeat the mistake, showing your employees that a major mistake can be turned into a success when you take an educated risk.
3. Pass on your lessons learned. When new employees suggest ideas that remind you of past mistakes, share your lessons learned with them. Instead of simply shutting down the idea, explain why a similar effort didn’t work in the past. A new person may offer a fresh perspective or an innovative solution for the problems that came up the first time.
As an alternative to casual conversations, you might set up a boot camp program where new employees spend a few days with each team, accumulating knowledge from each of them. Or, host a monthly presentation where teams present recent lessons learned and compile the videos in an easily accessible archive. Ultimately, you want to create a culture where face past mistakes head on, rather than trying to avoid them.