Failure: Eight ways to manage things going wrong

10th August 2017

4:24pm

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New research exploring ‘failure’ offers some practical suggestions on how social entrepreneurs and supporters can handle it more effectively

A new explore paper from our research team and researcher Roxanne Persaud, Exploring: social entrepreneurs and failure, challenges the current framing of failure as a beneficial learning opportunity. We think that acknowledging the real personal costs for social entrepreneurs need to be discussed.

In the first of our explore papers, we identify some issues that social entrepreneurs face when it comes to failure and ways that we can provide better support to help them.

Practical suggestions for social entrepreneurs

UPDATE YOUR PROJECT PLANS AND REVIEWS.

Include the identification and mitigation of everyday small failures as part of your regular project reviews.

Add the personal costs of failure into risk and contingency planning; identify what support is available if things go wrong (including from funding agencies).

Build in processes that will enable you to receive and act on feedback from your clients and your beneficiaries.

ENCOURAGE DISCUSSIONS AMONG YOUR STAFF.

If you have a team, find new ways to encourage honest and open discussions about workplace stress. Seek to establish a culture of ‘We failed’ not ‘You failed’ to avoid a culture of blame and avoidance.

Ongoing open, honest and sensitive discussions about this are needed. Developing a shared language about failure can also help to develop a blame-free culture for social entrepreneurs.

SEEK OUT PEER SUPPORT.

Find other entrepreneurs who you can share your experiences, costs and opportunities of failure with. Starting these conversations is an important step.

Opening up a new conversation helps build confidence to understand the stigma and pain of failure in social entrepreneurship as well as the creativity and opportunity for learning.

TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS.

Give yourself and your stakeholders time and space to process, reflect and learn from failure.
Bad news and negative feedback can be hard to take in the immediate aftermath of a failure.

It takes time to analyse failures and it is difficult for people who are responsible for being a champion for their organisation and for delivering social value, to focus on flaws and weaknesses.

Practical suggestions for support organisations

DON’T IGNORE THE PERSONAL.

Understand that failure is both personal and public – both emotional and practical responses are needed.

Integrate self-care and wellbeing into the support offered to social entrepreneurs. Offer or signpost social entrepreneurs to specialist support from counsellors, change managers, risk and recovery experts before crisis looms.

CREATE SPACES FOR PEER SUPPORT

Facilitate the creation of safe spaces through peer-mentoring and learning groups – this could be more effective than encouraging entrepreneurs to ‘celebrate’ failure.

Social entrepreneurs emphasised that they rarely find the time and space to process their experience of failure with others. In the best cases, honest and transparent discussion of organisational difficulties came about by asking colleagues (insiders) and consultants (outsiders) to act as critical friends.

HELP BUILD IN RISK AND CONTINGENCY PLANNING.

Work with start-up social entrepreneurs to understand the differences between prototyping, piloting and establishing new projects, and identify what the risks of failure are at each stage and ways that these risks could be mitigated.

Planned experiments or pilot projects resulting in failure, while difficult in the short term, can give new information and direction to future work.

SHARE SUCCESS AND FAILURE.

Track ‘lessons learned’ across support programmes and share stories of success and failure.

Sharing stories and lessons that give an honest account of the highs and lows of running a social enterprise can help social entrepreneurs feel more comfortable discussing their own failures. It can also help to mitigate common issues which result in failure.


Exploring: Social entrepreneurs and failure

For more about failure take a look at Exploring: social entrepreneurs and failure.

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