Post 6/30: Increasing Failures to Eliminate Failing

By Jeff Allen | @JeffAllenUT | President at Hanapin Marketing

This is part of a 30 posts in 30 days series chronicling my first 30 days in my new role as President of Hanapin Marketing.


A good craftsman never blames her tools.

You can get a good look at a steak by sticking your head up a cows [bum] but I’d rather take the butchers word for it.

People make time for things that are important to them.


These are a few of the idioms that our Director of Sales loves to fling my way. The last is the most apt, and probably the truest, which is why it is the topic of this post. As I look at my day I realize that there is no way that I am going to get everything done. What I have to decide is what I can fail at in order to give other tasks a higher likelihood of not just getting done, but accomplishing the goal associated with them.


High performers have the hardest time with these because they hate losing. Sure, they love winning. But they REALLY hate to lose. Not getting everything done, or losing even a small battle, can be devastating to the high performers positive mental attitude.


Following the following 5 step process to prioritization can help elevate this fear of failure by giving yourself the freedom to increase how often you fail in order to eliminate total failure.


1. Recognize the tasks with the smallest margin of failure.

There are always some things on your list that do not really move the needle. The way to look at them is to ask yourself, “what is the worst that could happen if I don’t get that done?” Then rank your list in terms of both the severity of what happens if it doesn’t get done.


2. Connect the top 5-10 things to your biggest 1-3 month objective.

If your objective is to grow new business then the top of your list will be tasks with the greatest margin of failure and that directly impact new business. If you want to increase customer satisfaction than your short list of tasks will be those that if not done have the highest likelihood of reducing client satisfaction or making the biggest impact on increasing client satisfaction.


Note: This presupposes you know what your biggest 1-3 month objective is. If you don’t, spend some time figuring it out. That will become your True North. For me it is to streamline/create processes that create more predictable results (for our clients and for us).


3. Further parse the list by pulling out the tasks with the most failure points.

Taking a look at your short list, are there any that have a lot of moving parts and/or require input from more than 2 people? These might be tasks with a lot of failure points (a lot of places where things could go wrong), which reduce the likelihood of crossing them off your list while achieving the goal of them. It’s not that this gives you permission to just do the easy stuff. But it does help if you have 5 potential things to do, to focus on those that have the best chance of getting done.


4. Get permission to fail.

It’s not just as simple as walking into the boss’s office and saying, “Hey Pat, I’m not going to get these 5 things done today, cool?”


It’s also important to not just be making excuses like, “Hey Pat, you can’t believe how swamped I am. I am just going to do these 3 things, and not these other 5, cool?”


The way to approach getting permission to not get something done is to make a case to the boss or client that includes alternatives, accountability and should be thought on before the day of. This could go like, “Hey Pat, I have about 10 things I want to get done in the next week but there are 3 that I think are the most important that we absolutely get done. They are “X”, “Y”, and “Z”. I see these as the must-dos because they directly attack my main focus of [insert the most important thing you are working on for the next 1-3 months]. I’d like to get your permission to focus most of my time on those three tasks and then attacking the others when/if I have time after doing that. Does this make sense to you or am I devaluing some of the other things on this list?”


5. THE MOST IMPORTANT: Stop feeling guilty.

High performers hate letting people down. They think more about what they could have done than about what they did accomplish. They are dripping with guilt. Please, stop. If you have prioritized right, received permission, then allow yourself the freedom to lose some battles in order to win the war.


If you are interested in reading all posts in this series you can start with post 1 about what I am focusing on as president of a PPC agency. Post 7 is about how to ensure you focus on the right things.