Win or Learn: Four Questions That Help You Keep Your Job

October 17, 2019

PUBLISHED BY Geoffrey Moore

Living in an Age of Disruption can be exhilarating, but it is also unpredictable. Forecasting during the early stages of a technology adoption life cycle is equal parts intuition, pattern recognition, and hope. Even well-established plans can go off the rails when a market disrupter enters the mix. The net of all this: sooner or later even the best of us will miss our committed plan. Now what?

The fundamental rule of high-tech management is Win or Learn. Obviously, we all prefer winning. If we are honest about it, however, when we do win, we normally don’t learn much. We just take a moment to bask in the success and then go right back at it. Losing is another matter.

When we lose, not only do we take a blow to our ego, we call into question our credibility with our colleagues, not to mention our boss. Yet losing is an inevitable part of the game. So, how we conduct ourselves matters a great deal. We haven’t won, so how do we demonstrate what we have learned?

It comes down to just four questions. Answer these clearly and concisely, and you get another bite at the apple. Fumble them, and you might not.

  1. What did you think was going to happen? In effect, what was your plan? What made you think it was going to work? Don’t spend a lot of time here, but remind people that you had a plan based on clear intentions and reasonable assumptions.
  2. What did happen? Be brutally honest here. Don’t make excuses. State as precisely as you can where, when, and how things turned out against you. If you made any mistakes, this is the time and place to own them.
  3. What did you learn? This is the moment of truth. If your only response to failure is that you will try harder next time, you will lose your audience. Instead, you have to extract some strategic principle from the failed effort upon which you can build a new approach that has a reasonable probability of succeeding where the prior one failed. Learning is neither easy nor obvious, so dig in here and talk to others before you speak your piece. You only get one shot. Aim carefully.
  4. How will you remediate the situation?   What are you going to differently next time? Make sure this is anchored in what you have learned, so people can see that you are indeed learning. Keep it crisp, and don’t paper over risks or uncertainties. Show that you have as clear a view of things as anyone could expect, and that you are on the case.

If you answer these four questions effectively and efficiently, you will win the respect and trust of your colleagues, and you can get back into the game with reasonable expectations of success. If you struggle with them, take that as a signal to reach out to your boss or colleagues for advice. Don’t try to fix something you don’t understand. Let people help you, and if need be, follow their lead.

Read the original post on LinkedIn here.