Fear of failure puts focus on the narrative, not the data.
We’ve spoken about analysis paralysis and data silos impeding decision-making. Fear of failure is another major theme extremely common in most corporate settings and deeply impacts data-driven decision-making. It’s a cultural thing where failed projects are considered negative to career advancement. Because of the negativity, teams do everything they can to constantly show that their work is creating a positive impact within their sphere of control. The consequence of this type of culture is a safe attitude when it comes to decision-making. The potential fall out is the lack of creativity, innovation and progress against products and services generating results that are counterproductive to business growth and sustainability.
Fear of failure corrupts the analysis
The use of data in these types of environments can make the problem even more difficult where the analysis of data is regularly skewed to show the most positive results. To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean that teams fabricate information to show progress. But data analysis is complicated and there are a number of ways to make the information tell the narrative you’re looking to create. As the old adage goes; for everything proved by a statistic, I can show you another statistic that will disprove it.
Fear of failure from a data perspective can emerge in a number of ways and can have long-lasting effects. Here are the ways they present themselves:
Easy to hit KPIs and metrics
The easiest way for teams to consistently show positive growth is to create KPIs and performance metrics that are easily achievable. Low balling KPIs are never good for a business as they slow down the performance of an organization. A team that is consistently hitting their KPIs is either not learning from failure or is not pushing beyond their comfort zone.
Changing KPIs and metrics
It can become almost impossible to show consistently positive results against the same KPIs within an organization. Even the best businesses have negative results at some point. Teams who are forced to constantly show positive results know this and will start changing their KPIs and metrics to create the perception of success when they see other areas failing.
Lack of open communication
When teams are constantly trying to show positive results, it tends to stifle an open communication about the true data-based results of an organization. They will be reticent to disclose any additional information that may contradict the narrative they are trying to create with their data analysis. The fear of failure will control the conversation – and the ability to grow.
Deepening of data silos
Teams that are trying to show consistent positive results will always want to own their own data and analysis and reject any notion of shared and integrated data. This is a control mechanism that makes it easier to create the story of the analysis when you own it. We’ve already discussed the negatives of data silos, but this highlights the reality of how important a holistic data strategy is to breaking down data silos.
It’s easier to ignore failure than it is to embrace it. Fear of failure is ingrained in us at a young age. Unfortunately, it’s this fear of failure that will hold back organizations and create a culture where data is incorrectly used to constantly show improvement. Understanding that failure is part of growth and being transparent about data will help companies drive forward successfully. Failure just means that you’ve found problems that can be fixed and the earlier that happens, the better it is for an organization from both a business and human resources perspective.
Making data-based decisions is essential in today’s business environment, unfortunately, most companies still don’t see themselves as data-driven. A commitment to a data-driven culture that has a strategy and focuses on the openness of information and failure can give your company the confidence to pursue challenging and rewarding growth. It’s not always the easiest path to take but becoming more data-driven and less instinct-focused will only help your long-term business strategy.