I work in an industry with contradicting messages around the term failure.
On one hand we hear to fail fast, be innovative, try different things, and “don’t let perfection be a roadblock to progress.” On the other hand – and especially when it comes to performance reviews, – nobody wants to have to justify that “hiccup” when delivery doesn’t match expectations.
If given the choice, most career-minded professionals in the healthcare information technology (HIT) sphere would prefer working in teams that bat a thousand. So how are we to learn when things don’t go as hoped?
Learning From Mistakes
Preferably, we learn from other people’s mistakes. Reviewing case scenarios in retrospect presents an ideal chance to identify missed opportunities, gaps in communication, and failures in following fundamental guidelines. These are all good standards in professional practice.
But honestly, when you make a mistake (and trust me – it happens to everyone), the stakes feel higher. Even the most compelling retrospective and disaster analysis rarely delivers the same impact as the first-hand feeling of disappointing a customer face-to-face, having to account for errors in judgement, or simply owning up to misses in delivery regardless of the excuse or justification.
The good news is that a lot can be gained by capitalizing on moments like this.
Sometimes it can be difficult, especially if the situation is emotionally charged, to connect to a more reflective or career-focused growth mindset. But the benefits can be surprising, and worth making that extra effort to try and look at the situation as honestly and objectively as possible.
The Challenge is Clarity
It’s important to move past the highly-personal connection to a mistake – and, as a team and individually, to embrace these teachable moments. The gravitas can help.
But the challenge is clarity. How can we use the power of a recent experience – one that stirs up emotions, or an activated fight or flight instinct – to motivate course correction, without leaning into the natural tendency for self-defense that leads to blaming others or looking for that malicious “gotcha” from external persons or institutions?
Takeaways from Experience
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Here are a few takeaways I learned from discussing this with HIT professionals that have “been there, done that:”
Tip 1: Embrace your feelings.
Emotions can be powerful. Sometimes they cloud judgment, but their energy and force needs to be appreciated. Don’t attempt to suppress or deny feelings that arise from facing missteps or negative outcomes. Rather, acknowledge them.
Allow yourself the space to feel your feelings.
There is no need for critical analysis on this tip – just grant yourself permission to experience your basic human instincts. For some people, capturing your thoughts and feelings in writing can create space for acceptance, recognition and clarity.
Tip 2: Take a breath.
Time can work wonders.
Sometimes, the simple perspective of a new day can spark fresh intuition and perception.
Look for ways to replace the noise of reliving the situation over and over in your head with something that is positive and attention-absorbing. Go to a movie, help a friend with something completely unrelated. Step outside for a moment – both literally (if possible) and mentally.
Additionally, consider taking stock with a self-retrospective during this step and use that for measured action. Ask yourself three simple questions,
- What is working / going well?
- What is not going well?
- What can I do differently?
Tip 3: Take measured action.
Oftentimes, immediate action is required to provide a situation assessment or report so managers and leaders can understand the situation and take appropriate action. Providing an analysis in the short term can help to avoid misremembering or leaving out critical details. But take care in these moments as well – make sure to hit your own personal “pause” button before hitting “send” to the wider world.
Take the measured action to carefully review your assessments and re-read for words that sound like blame or judgement.
Tip 4: Follow the plan.
In nearly every HIT environment, there is an appropriate, safe, and well-situated contingency plan for just about every scenario. And there’s typically a fairly detailed plan for damage control and amelioration, too.
Familiarize yourself with the protocols for situations that most closely match yours.
Tip 5: Recognize tendencies toward isolation or being “uniquely oppressed.”
Finally, and maybe most importantly, try and share your experience with trusted colleagues and managers. In most cases you’ll find a surprising amount of empathy and stories of similar predicaments.
Opening yourself to hearing about other experiences can help bring clarity and insight. This is critical.
Reach out to team members, peers, other leaders for help and guidance when feeling stressed or unsure of what to do next. Failing fast on an island is the worst, but you don’t have to go it alone.
A feeling of embarrassment, or the tendency to try and “look good” in every situation can lead folks to downplay or even hide from experiences that may seem like they won’t reflect well on your character or your professional brand. But once you get over that trepidation, and share what you’re going through with trusted friends and advisers, you’re quite likely to find camaraderie, compassion and good ideas from colleagues who have been in the same boat.
Blessing in Disguise
Moments like this can also be a bit of a test as to whether you’re in a professional environment that is truly interested in your career growth and job satisfaction. In the right environment, supportive managers, team members and HR partners will help guide you on the path to reconciliation without judgment or recrimination. Supportive and savvy organizations have learned that it is in everyone’s best interest to provide a safe space to share and surface issues early, and to take corrective action not just for the benefit of the customer, but for the benefit of the delivery team members as well.
It may be difficult sometimes to hear folks tell you to “dust yourself off” and “get back on that horse”, but the message is more than just learning to bounce back after hitting bumps in the road. Setbacks and difficulty can often provide some of the most informative and beneficial experiences in a HIT professional’s career. Look for that “blessing in disguise” whenever possible, take the next right action, and you may be surprised how quickly you’ll feel ready to get back in the game.