Leadership Post-Mortem

A friend phoned for advice about a recent disaster in his business. A project fell to pieces, or as he said, “the wheels fell off” and his employees headed for the hills, leaving him to clean up the mess. The joys of leadership!

“What went wrong? We were a team, working together for the common good of the firm. But a few goals weren’t met on time, one of our suppliers didn’t come through, customers began screaming at us and the troops deserted! What should I have done differently?”

“Do you think that before we started the project we should have clarified individual accountabilities and made sure everyone knew what each was responsible for? I guess each of us expected the other would pick up the pieces, and as a result, no-one did. Or what about a contingency plan or a disaster plan? Should we have prepared alternatives in case our original plan failed or our assumptions changed?”

Of course he’s right. There’s no such thing as group accountability, only individual accountability. Any project is bound to turn out better if everyone involved knows his or her role, what’s expected of each of them, what authority they have and for what results or actions they’re held accountable. If not, people will be less certain about what they’re doing, less likely to show initiative, more defensive, and more likely to blame the other guy when things go wrong. And anticipating the uncertain future by developing contingency plans is always a worthwhile exercise.

But although his self assessment was probably correct, the most important result of my friend’s bad experience was that he learned from it – in this case by using me as a sounding board!! Since things never go right all the time, don’t bank on perfection. So after a failure, do a post-mortem and learn from your misfortune.

What will keep you from making the same mistake again, whether it’s a failed project or hiring the wrong person for a job? Build the prevention into the operating procedures of your business. And just as important, make a post-mortem a regular process in your business. After all, if you don’t learn from your mistakes, there’s no sense making them.

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