Why You Can’t Afford to Lack Ambition or Fear Failure at Work

Learn to set the bar higher than you're used to - but it's important to feel comfortable about missing the mark.

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Why You Can’t Afford to-LackAmbition or Fear Failure at Work

It was famous Basketball coach John Wooden that said, “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be”. Wisdom that I would like to suggest has never been so true. 

I don’t know which department or team you work in but I’d like to start off telling you about data science teams. These teams are responsible for inventing methods and algorithms that unlock value in data using tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

These teams are literally changing our lives everyday. But what if I told you that like most science based teams, they spend most of their time trying new things that don’t work in the expectation that every now and again there will be a breakthrough.

What about ambitious company goals? Jim Collins coined the phrase BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal for the most extreme examples of ambitious goal setting. His learnings and beliefs pointed him to simple conclusions. Visionary companies set clear and audacious goals. 

It is clear that to succeed you need to not only be comfortable setting goals with the bar set higher than you feel comfortable, but you also need to get comfortable with the idea that you’ll sometimes or even frequently miss that mark in your pursuit of greatness.

Create an upward spiral

This ability for a company, team or individual to apply effort to tough challenges, execute, fail, learn and adapt is central to all, or at least, most deliberate achievement.  Yet it’s so often missing. In fact, I have found that workplace cultures where goal setting is a game of loading the dice to set goals that are highly achievable are really common. 

What are ‘low bar’ companies and teams missing out on? There’s a lot of research to suggest that ambitious teams have higher focus for longer, prolong effort, choose which activities to do more efficiently, discover new and better ways of doing things, and collaborate more effectively. 

In an increasingly competitive and uncertain world I’d suggest that there are not many companies or teams that can afford to miss on these growth and development levers, and you should actually fear missing out on their clear, obvious and science backed benefits. Because accessing these growth and development levers creates an upwards spiral of success.

You benefit too

Are you working in a company or team where ambitious goals, measurement, transparency, autonomy, accountability and healthy collaboration are light on the ground or absent? 

Is that culture with its related behaviour and habits going to work for you or your company in the long-run? 

If not, why not be a catalyst for change and improve?

What’s in it for you? Accelerated learning and development needs goals, ambition and risks, and it’s this learning and development that not only creates value for customers and shareholders, but it develops careers.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford

If you are a leader of a company where thriving in a fast moving environment is getting harder, with ambition, calculated risk taking, agility and innovation being ‘table-stakes’ not luxuries, then pause.

Surely, having a purpose driven, goal lead, and empowered talent pool is plan A, B and C. Make now the time to think about how you plan, direct, manage, and operate by re-thinking the systems and processes you use, the common goal platforms that help manage people, and perhaps most importantly the culture and people that you need to underpin it all.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning” – Colin Powell

Where to begin

I am a big believer in a simple idea I call ‘Moon, Mars & Stars’. If what I have described feels like a big change then let us call that the stars. It’s hard to get to the stars quickly, but you can reach staging posts and slingshot around the Moon, and then around Mars. 

What does the Moon and Mars look like here? You will need to set your own staging posts but three things I know you can achieve in 90 days are:

  1. Start using great outcome based goal frameworks like OKR.
  2. Start measuring and nurturing psychological safety as it has a huge impact on performance
  3. Invest in wellbeing – it has never mattered more.

Good luck!

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