Monday, December 5, 2016

Stop Calling It Failing

At my association, we set goals every year. Some of them we're pretty sure we can achieve and others seem a little more far-fetched. I typically don't shy away from those "stretch" goals, but you do have to be careful that you don't pile too many of them on top of each other. Nothing but stretch goals can often lead to low morale. But a handful, carefully placed in areas where "better than normal" performance is required to achieve wider organizational goals, can help organize and concentrate efforts in a way that at least gives you a shot at hitting the targets.

But you won't always. That goes without saying. They wouldn't be stretch goals if you were able to hit them 100% of the time. So what do you call it when things fall short? In the lexicon of goal setting, we often speak about achieving or failing. The goal was to grow membership by a net of 10 more members, and we're 12 higher than last year--so we achieved our goal. Or, we only grew by 8, so we failed.

Wait. What? You grew by "only" 8 more members, and you failed? How is growing the number of members in the association, regardless of how many, a failure? To my way of thinking, any increase in the direction of the goal is a success. Given the goal above, the only reasonable thing to call a failure would be a situation where the trend reversed itself. If you lost 8 members, that would be a failure. Even if you only gained 1 member, that would be some kind of success. You didn't achieve the goal, but you also didn't fail.

In innovation circles, we're often told that we musn't be afraid to fail. And I suppose that is true. But let's be careful about what we call failure and what we call success.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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