“I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan
While it can be debated who the best player in the NBA is or has been, for this Chicagoite, Michael Jordan is likely the best by far. But prior to his success, he committed to a tremendous amount of practice, and he admits he experienced a lot of failure too.
Many of you may know that I am related to the Hershey candy company. Milton Snavely Hershey was my great-great-grandfather’s cousin. And while today the Hershey Food Corporation is a multi-billion dollar success, prior to his success, Milton Hershey had to endure failure too. Milton was expected to help out on the family farm near Derry Township, PA, and he learned early the value of hard work and perseverance. Milton had left school and apprenticed for a local printer, but he was bored, and, after accidently dropping his hat in one of the machines, he was fired from his job. Instead, one of Milton’s aunts encouraged him to learn the candy-making business. Over the course of four years, Milton apprenticed with a confectioner in Lancaster, PA before stepping out on his own. But like Michael Jordan, success did not come immediately. Milton started a caramel-making business in New York City, but it failed after three years. Returning to Lancaster, he borrowed money again from his family to start Lancaster Caramel Company. Learning from trial and error with previous candy making, he finally perfected the caramels they produced. His first big success came when a man from England visited Lancaster, tasted Milton’s caramels, and placed an order large enough that Milton was able to pay back his family and expand the operation. Then, after visiting the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, Milton took an interest in the confection of chocolate he had seen there. In 1900, he sold the Lancaster Caramel Company and used the proceeds to start the Hershey Chocolate Company. By 1905, production had begun on the now famous Hershey Milk Chocolate Candy Bar and the Hershey Kiss (the chocolate kind, though my wife enjoys both). And the rest, as they say, is history!
Many times, the 4Ward team will work with a company and find the group unwilling to try something new for fear of failing. I am not sure why the stigma of making a mistake in our job has caused us (as a society) to fear trying something new. As you can see from Michael Jordan and Milton Hershey, part of achieving success is persevering through failure. In fact, it is through our failure that we can really learn to find a solution or improve a process, etc.
A couple of years ago, Robert Half Group conducted a survey on employee fears and the results are telling. Here are the top answers from that survey of what makes an employee afraid:
- Fear of making a mistake or trying something new. This tops the list (cited by 30%).
- Fear of getting fired. In fact, this involves not only the fear of getting fired outright, but the fear of appearing less dedicated or vital if they actually take earned vacation days. The data shows employees left an average of 11 vacation days untaken in 2015.
- Fear of dealing with difficult customers or clients.
- Fear of conflict with a manager.
- Fear of speaking in front of a group.
- Fear of disagreements with co-workers.
Wow, our employees certainly have a lot of fear.
If you are implementing a new process, putting in a new piece of equipment, changing how you are going to market, or working with a team like 4Ward to start a lean program, then communication is going to be a critical part of driving success because open communication is essential for ending organizational fear. In a fearful environment, front-line employees are unwilling to share because they are afraid somebody will “kill the messenger.” Without a healthy feedback loop, the organization loses the focus required for problem-solving efforts and innovative new developments and productivity gains.
How can we help employees conquer their fears, and help bring their innovation forward? Let me suggest the following three steps:
- We must learn to truly trust our employees. We must trust their inherent powers and strengths. We must trust them to find and deliver their finest nature, which is only possible if leaders regard and treat their employees as fully creative and capable people. We must trust them to care about each other, and about their customers. When leadership thinks in terms of “giving power” to employees, they are giving employees something they (and employees) inherently know that they also have the ability to take back. A leader who genuinely trusts their people believes and communicates that employees already have all of the power they need within them, and communicates that he or she trusts them to use their power honorably and well. This is one of many core principles in lean.
- We must rely on principles, not policies, to govern our decisions and acts. Instead of managing employees through policies and rules, consider the possibility of agreeing on guiding principles instead. For us, the principles are our 7 Non-Negotiables: Respect, Belief, Trust, Loyalty, Courage, Gratitude, and Commitment. By adhering to these foundational traits, employees can govern their own decisions without manager oversight or performance appraisals. More importantly, they are no longer fearful about the possibility they will make a mistake.
- Employees must experiment before they create. A fearful employee can never experiment. In an environment of trust, however, individuals and teams thrive on the opportunity to create and try new approaches. It has been noted in several studies that organizations weaken themselves most through sins of omission, primarily their failure to experiment. Why do they not experiment? Yet again, the fear of making mistakes. Experiments, and failures, are vital along the path to success.
In summary, employees who feel supported and appreciated will feel sufficiently secure to devote their full energy, creativity, and passion to the company and its goals. They will naturally innovate in every area within their influence. We must move away from work environments that are based on command and control. I remember several years ago something that my good friend, and Executive Director of SBCA, Kirk Grundahl told me regarding leadership at the top. “Servant Leadership is how we should lead our employees or lead an organization whether as the CEO, Director, Manager, Executive Director, etc.” I often refer to this statement when leading others to help eliminate their fears. By lifting up our employees and empowering them, we lead them to be a success, even when they fail.
We must eliminate fear for innovation to truly occur. If you are willing to take this challenge, the changes you see will astound you. The 4Ward Consulting team has helped several hundred operations increase performance and profitability including mentoring leaders. If we can be of assistance to you and your team, please give us a call.
Ben Hershey is CEO of the 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC team. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward Consulting Group team. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.
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