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Google is one of the most well-known companies on the planet today. But before Google became the successful internet empire they are today, they had many, many failures.

And even today, as one of the most famous and successful companies in the world, they continue to fail – and they know that failures will always happen sometimes, no matter how big you get. And of course, all companies fail or mess up sometimes – in big ways and in small ways. What distinguishes Google from many companies in this way is their decision that failure is not something that ideally should be avoided; instead it has become expected and incorporated as part of their process.

If you try enough things, not everything is going to succeed.

But wait – we all know that failure, while important for learning, isn’t a good thing. Failure means something didn’t work or went wrong, after all. And there is no way to sugar coat it: if you fail at something you didn’t succeed.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t turn failure into success.

One way Google has done it, is by setting the expectation that they will re-visit all of their projects — their successes, along with their failures – to ask, “What did we learn from this?” as part of their process for everything.

And you can do the same thing for the decisions in your life, by doing a post-mortem on every one of your biggest decisions.



How to stop worrying if a decision was right or wrong

All of us know that fretting feeling we experience after making a big decision—whether we feel that we did the “right” thing or not.

It is time to start being happy with your decisions.

The key to being happy with your decisions is accepting their outcome, but then using that outcome to inform future decisions. Whether your decision turned out to be good or bad, doing an assessment will allow you to determine, “What did I learn from this? What was right? What was wrong?”

If you want to stop worrying about your decisions, change your process:

After every big decision you make, plan to do a post-mortem session: a deliberately planned time dedicated to determining the success of a project, idea, hire, etc. and troubleshooting for increased future success (and this should apply to your personal decisions, but also the ones you make as a team, company or business).

You can stop fretting about decisions immediately after you make them because you’ll always know that in a few weeks, you’ll sit down and assess their outcome, correct mistakes, and make improvements. You can accept your decision, regardless of a positive or negative outcome, because you’ll be learning from it and you’ll have the opportunity to be continually improving and growing every situation.  You are adopting a growth mindset.

Each decision is ongoing and open for re-evaluation and improvement. Nothing is set in stone if you are willing to go back, learn, and improve.


Doing your own post-mortem

Whether it is a big purchase or a path on a project it is easy to agonize over the paths we choose.  However, if you adopt this post-mortem philosophy it is much easier to accept and move on.  The rest of this post goes through the basic best practices for evaluating decisions.

1) Set a time frame.

When will you conduct your post-mortem session? This will be contingent upon the decision you are trying to evaluate. For most things, give yourself 4-6 weeks to fully evaluate the outcome, but assess the time frame on each project at decision time (so you can schedule future time to check it out, rather than waiting or possibly forgetting to do the post-mortem).

Put it on your calendar now. Once you’ve determined how long you need to wait, getting the post-mortem session scheduled should be a priority! If you’ll need to bring together multiple people for the session, trying to coordinate multiple busy schedules is likely to de-rail the post-mortem session from happening, so schedule it in advance.

2) Pick the metrics for judging the success of your decision.

How will you evaluate the success of your decision? Here is one sample template to help you think about these parameters. The metrics are going to vary from decision to decision, but here is the key question you need to answer (be as specific as possible):

  • What does the ideal outcome of the decision look like? (i.e. a 10% increase in revenue? an increased number of website views after a media campaign launch?)

Use the answer to this question as the basis for setting your metrics. For example, if successfully transitioning a new Chief Operations Officer into your company would be the idea outcome, define would a “successful transition” would look like, and what scenarios or factors would define a “failure” to reach your outcome.

If the decision was to join to a gym, ask yourselves how many times do you need to go to make the cost worthwhile?

Establishing the success criteria up front will help you evaluate the outcome based on expected goals.

3) Collect Data

Now that you know when you’ll be holding your post-mortem session and what you’re striving for, you’ll need to start collecting data for analysis. Depending on the type of decision you’re evaluating, you’ll want qualitative and/or quantitative data.

You’ve already set the metrics in step two, so identify ways to measure or record whether your decision is succeeding or failing within those parameters.

For some projects sending out a survey might be the best way to collect data from the team or your customers; for others, collecting website analytics could be as simple as downloading data from your site. Determine who will be responsible for collecting this data and make sure the right questions are asked so that the right answers are found.

4) Prepare

Your post-mortem session will be much more effective if everyone attending is prepared! Be sure to outline the purpose of the meeting for participants when you invite them to join. If conducting post-mortem sessions is a new process, take some time to explain what a post-mortem session is and why their participation is so valuable! Also send them any data you may have collected in advance so that all participants can analyze it as well to know what they’re working with.

Tell them to come prepared with answers jotted down to the following questions:

  • What successes and failures have you seen as a result of the decision?
  • What are the key aspects of this decision and its corresponding outcomes that you’d like to discuss?
  • What would you like to see change and what would you like to remain the same after seeing the results of this decision? Why?

5) During the Post-Mortem

First, designate a note-taker. This person’s sole job should be to transcribe the highlights of what is discussed – so bringing in an assistant or office admin who is not part of the discussion is especially useful if possible. After all, you don’t want the note-taker distracted or biased by their participation in the discussion.

Next, appoint a moderator (which can be you or someone else with good communication and leadership skills – if you are a manager this is a great time to delegate to someone else so they can take a turn). This individual should make sure everyone gets a chance to contribute and should keep the discussion moving so that you can cover everything in our allotted time.

Now, you can move into the actual discussion! It helps to start with the positive outcomes, the “successes” of your decision before transitioning into the things that require improvement. Incorporate your data as you cover each of these sections; it is important to remember this session is about removing the uncertainty about how a decision worked out.

Use a whiteboard or sticky notes to keep track of everyone’s ideas and make notes of conclusions drawn. Making it visual helps people follow along, especially when lots of ideas and data are being thrown around. It can also help people to feel heard, since emotions can run high during a post-mortem.

People may feel sensitive about a group taking about failures of a project they worked on, so your moderator should be prepared to keep the discussion objective and on track, and help people to feel that their voices are being heard. And remember to always make the conversation about the work, not the people involved.

6) Determine your next move.

The point of conducting a post-mortem session is to determine what you have learned from your decision. Using your data and the conclusions of your data, determine how you will make immediate and long term changes with respect to your decision.

Also ask yourself what have I learned from this decision that can be applied to future decisions?

This process may feel a little contrived when you first start (especially if you tend to make lots of good decisions!) but it takes the guess work out of decisions, and frees you up to do the work and then improve as needed.

This is a great way to create a culture of improvement and will begin to feel natural in no time!

Do you have other strategies to feel good about your decisions?  Or suggestions to make the decision making progress more effective – either personally or professionally? If so, definitely leave your suggestions and ideas in the comments!

Tags: decisions, fear, feedback, growth, leadership practice, post mortems, reflection,

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