The Importance of Acknowledging Success and Failure

Jan. 28, 2020
How we acknowledge success—and failure—determines future outcomes within a body shop.

A while ago, I was in a leadership class where we did a memory exercise as a team. The entire group had to memorize a list of 20 items and then work together to recite that list back in the correct order. On our first attempt, we made it to four before someone got the fifth item wrong. We started over and, sadly, got number five on the list wrong a second time. At that point, we took a timeout and developed a strategy for how to approach the task and we made it all the way to 16 before someone missed the 17th item on the list. We were so close, and when that person couldn’t remember number 17, we all got very frustrated—we were so fixated on getting all 20!

Our instructor stopped us to ask us a few questions about our frustration. He pointed out that on our first two attempts, we made it only to number 4, while on our third attempt, we made it to 16. That was a 400 percent increase over the first two takes—and our reaction was disappointment?! I can tell you I felt foolish when he pointed that out. 

Have you ever found yourself disappointed at your company’s results only to later realize it wasn’t as bad as you thought? How you react to missing goals can have a lot of influence on your team’s future performance. Imagine being a technician working for a boss who got upset at a 400 percent increase in production! It would not be a pleasant environment to work in. Yet the biggest lesson for me took over a year to truly sink in, which I’ll get back to shortly.

At this time of the year, it’s likely you are well on your way to achieving some big goals you set at the start of the year. But, if you are anything like our group in that memory experiment, you might not always hit your mark. Remembering the big picture will help you realize how to react and put things into perspective.

There have been times in our company’s history where I have been very disappointed in our results, only to take a step back and realize that if we have achieved the same results just six months prior, I would have been thrilled. Sitting in the leader’s chair, I think it’s OK to feel some frustration when we don’t achieve our desired goals. But, our reaction we show to the team can have a big effect on how they perform moving forward.   

The key lesson I learned from that class, which took me about a year to truly grasp, was to look at the effort versus the results. If an honest effort is being given, it’s likely that the desired results will come very soon. That was the trick to not reacting poorly when we didn’t hit the goal we set out to: focusing on the effort. And if you don’t get the results you are looking for, despite the team giving a strong effort, then it’s likely that the game plan was poorly designed, which falls on the leader’s shoulders.

That’s when it’s time to put the coaching hat on.

The first column I ever wrote for FenderBender discussed the difference between coaching and teaching.

There are so many traits of a good coach that we should apply to leading a body shop. One of the best traits of a professional sports coach is their ability to get over a loss quickly. Good coaches, regardless of the outcome of the most recent game, will focus on their next opponent in their post-game press conference.  

Our industry should be no different. We will have periods when we don’t produce the way we are capable of. Dwelling on bad jobs, days, or even weeks isn’t very productive and usually hurts morale.   Taking the cue from sports coaches is a good practice: just focus on the next customer or next vehicle.

Another great lesson I learned from that memory exercise is that, when things are going in the wrong direction, stop and regroup. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Sometimes when things aren’t going well, it’s a good idea to just pause and get the group together to assess what is causing the problems. The goal of these sessions is not to point fingers at the culprits, but to tweak the game plan for success. One of my favorite takeaways from the book The Toyota Way, is when they talked about stopping the assembly line so they could identify what needed to be fixed in their processes.

The next time you see results from your team that don’t meet your expectations, take a minute to ask yourself a few questions: Do the results show you are on a positive trajectory? Is your team giving a strong effort, or do you need to make changes to your processes to set your team up for success? It takes some real guts to stop a body shop in the middle of the day, but the dividends from the times we have done that have always paid off exponentially.

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