How to Fail Successfully at Work

You will fail at something at work. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. But, as oxymoronic as it sounds, there is a ‘right’ way to fail…

Are you having a bad day at work? Or perhaps you’re having a bad week? Or even a bad year? If you’re an experienced procurement professional, you might have the confidence to take it all in your stride. But if you tend towards perfectionism, the idea that you might not do something well, or worse, that you might actually fail at something, could be abhorrent to you. 

Whether or not you’re a perfectionist, it’s worth knowing that there is, in fact, a ‘right way’ to fail. It’s just enough to know it though, it’s just as important to enact it. After all, we’ve all seen colleagues fail at something, only for them to not admit their failure, try to cover it up, get defensive when questioned on it, or worse – try to blame others. 

In the complex and ever-changing world of procurement, failure is inevitable. Knowing this can help you be prepared for it happening, and then understanding how to do it in the best way possible: 

1. Embrace a Growth Mindset

If you haven’t heard of a growth mindset, and it’s opposite the fixed mindset, then it’s worth getting acquainted with it. Put simply, if you have a growth mindset, you view failure not as a setback, but as a growth opportunity. 

For example, imagine you spend months doing an RFQ, only to select a supplier that then goes into administration. With a fixed mindset, you’d be frustrated with yourself, and you’d be worried about how you might look to others in your team (or alternatively, you might even get defensive and blame them). 

With a growth mindset, though, you’d look at your processes more holistically, see what went wrong, and use this to help prevent it from happening next time.

2. Communicate with Transparency

There’s no denying that failure at work is hard – extremely hard. Sometimes facing the fact that you’ve failed, especially to colleagues, managers and stakeholders, can be a terrifying prospect. 

So terrifying, in fact, that you might be tempted to wait until the last minute to communicate your failure, or alternatively, not communicate it at all. But this is the opposite of what you should do. 

When you fail at something, efficient and transparent communication is key. The reason for this is that if you own up to a failure (and ideally, prepare a plan to mitigate negative outcomes), your stakeholders will have time to make adjustments and plan accordingly. 

If, however, you leave things to the last minute (or don’t communicate at all), the knock-on effects and subsequent impacts will be far more severe.

3. Adapt to Survive

Five years ago, the idea that we would go through a global event that would change supply chain dynamics forever would have been unthinkable. The notion of a global pandemic was one for the history books and Hollywood scripts.

However, global events are far less predictable than we would like. Couple this with the acceleration of technological development and a wildly variable macroeconomic environment, and you’re left with the knowledge that nothing ever stays the same for long. And neither should you.

Doing things the way we did them during the pandemic would result in numerous failures, and rightly so. But in this case hindsight is actually a good thing as it forces us to adapt. When you fail it’s important to look at your failure through a lens of what you need to change and adapt for next time. 

In fact, the faster you fail, the more likely you are to continually adapt to procurement’s fast-changing landscape. So more failures can quickly equal more success! 

4. Cultivate Resilience

Given the pressures of the procurement profession, one trait that is critical – but it isn’t discussed nearly as often as it should be – is resilience. Ultimately, resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and persevere no matter what. Doing so requires self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and the ability to confidently face challenging situations. 

Cultivating resilience is hard, and a lot of it comes from having a broad range of experience. However, one great way to develop this trait is to try reframing. That is, when you’re faced with failure, ensure that you think of it as a temporary setback, rather than a reflection on your worth as an individual. 

In procurement, none of us want to fail, and very few people like discussing their failure, either. But if you change your mindset to think of failures as opportunities for growth, innovation, and resilience, and ensure that you are transparent and brave, you’ll fail much more successfully. 

How do you approach failure? What would you recommend to others? Let us know in the comments below.