Around this time last year, I attended a really interesting leadership workshop (hosted by Moshe Braunfrom ARC Group) where the group got to talking about speaking authentically and the power of experimenting even if it means failure.

We all have been in the situation where there is a particular project that no one actually believes in – and actually the project is completely failing – but rather than call out the problems with the project and either resolve them or kill the project – the project just keeps dragging on and on.

I deal with a lot of startups and when the team I work with see a startup that can’t get traction and can’t get funding and just keeps limping along we refer to them as the “walking dead” – They just need someone to come along and kill them (the company – not the founders) and put them out of their misery. But instead – neither the founders nor the investors nor the advisors want to call-time and wrap the project up. No one wants to stay Stop.

Then I got to thinking about how hard it is for some projects to get off the ground. And I realised that before a project gets started. No one wants to say Go.

Whether it is a startup looking for funding or a project within an enterprise looking for budget and resources – the situation is often the same. Many painful hours of explaining and planning de-risking and approval seeking. And just when you think you’ve got it in the bag – someone comes along with just one more approval that they need to get… one more advisor to cast in their commentary… one more excuse to fall back on as to why the project went forward.

Only when the project has been sufficiently de-risked does someone say Go. And that means that there a lot of really good projects that never pass this de-risking phase where there is only 1 person who can say Go.

Leaders and investors take great care in ensuring that the ideas they endorse are the right ones – but how much time and care do they take in getting genuine objective feedback once a project launches? Do they really want to know when the project is lost, wandering or stumbling? Do they really want to know when – despite their best efforts – the project has turned into a dog and is now dragging down the team, the company and the budget?

And probably even more important than this, how do leaders act when they get the signals and they do decide to call time on a project or to kill a startup? Do they go back and look at all the people who said yes and try to place the blame? Or do they look at how far the company and the team have progressed and look for the highest value they can achieve in learning and experience and understanding before moving on.

Do the leaders embrace experimentation – in spite of the risk of failure? And do they celebrate the learning rather than the failing when a project doesn’t meet expectations?

If you are a team member it is incumbent upon you to look objectively at the situation and to present the facts such as they are – along with potential solutions to the problems you see. You must not be afraid to call things out.

As Bill Bezdek – my first boss – used to say: “Never come to me with a problem without at least one solution attached.”

If you are a leader, you have the opportunity to grow you team and your business and to create an environment where experimentation is celebrated by what is learned from both successful and unsuccessful attempts.

Regardless of whether the project has been given a green light or not, you can create an environment where anyone can say Go – and anyone can say Stop. And when you do this, you are far more likely to see the good projects go and the bad ones fail as they should (with learning).

Troy Norcross

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Article by Troy Norcross