I was talking with one of my clients today. She runs a small business that is poised to grow. In an effort to pursue that growth, she has recently brought on some important people to help deliver the experience that, up to now, she has delivered primarily by herself. Needless to say she is nervous.
You must understand my client is excellent at what she does - one of the best, in my opinion. A large part of her hiring model is to bring on people who have limited experience and to teach them her process. Her offering, like many others, is highly commoditized even though it is highly personal.
As we were discussing the challenges of bringing her people up to speed, she asked: “How do I get them to perform where I need them to?”
”By letting them make mistakes,” I replied.
Needless to say, this was not the answer she wanted. It was, however, the right answer to give. I warn entrepreneurs not to hire salespeople if they are unwilling to let salespeople blow opportunities. I realize it sounds absurd. The entire reason we hire people is to get a job done. As entrepreneurs, we’ve refined our ability to provide services to an extraordinarily high level. The very idea of bringing somebody in who can screw it up is scary. Despite the fear, it is often necessary.
Kids learn how to walk by falling down. Picking up new skills, habits and approaches is difficult. Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, is famous for saying – “If you want to double your success rate, double your failure (mistake) rate.” People often refer to this quote when talking about how a business approaches a market. It is equally important when applied to individuals within an organization.
For fast-growth businesses, it is a simple question: Do you want a business to grow that is dependent on a few key people or do you want a business to grow through the combined activities of many? With the former, growth has an end point, with the latter, it does not.
If you don’t want to limit your growth, you must embrace mistakes – even when mistakes can cost you business. You see, sometimes it just takes time to be excellent. People learn by making mistakes. When people are allowed to make mistakes, they play more, and as they play, they begin to master more things – and mastering leads to genius. That’s right, mistakes are a necessary precursor to genius.
When someone feels (and ‘feel’ is the key word) that they are not allowed to make a mistake, their learning capabilities are diminished significantly. While you may not have to deal with as many ‘mistakes’, your chances for creating a high performance organization are greatly diminished.