Most failures happen when everyone knows there is a problem but no one says anything.

By Steve Moran

I recently watched a video interview of Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, where she said this:

“Most failures happen when everyone knows there is a problem but no one says anything”

I agree 100% and would add a corollary which is . . . “It is insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect different results”. (Most often attributed to Albert Einstein.)

In some sense you can go yeah, yeah . . . except that . . . when things go wrong and they are not addressed head on, people get hurt. Residents end up with a substandard experience; team members get discouraged or quit; costs go up; occupancy goes down. And when it gets really bad, organizations fail.   

There are three tightly coupled reasons why these things happen:

  1. No One Likes Confrontations: Peers — With only very rare exceptions people hate to have hard conversations. They hurt people’s feelings. So often when these conversations need to take place the person who is going to get hurt is the person who is least responsible for the failure.  

    Here is what I mean . . . I go hire and an executive director to run a community I am responsible for and they are not very good . . .   

    Who’s fault is that? The executive director’s right . . . after all they are the one who didn’t do a good job.  

    Not so fast!

    Maybe it’s my fault for hiring the wrong person for that position. This is really tough stuff because they and their family will pay even more than you and your organization. 

  1. No One Likes Confrontations: Leaders — Leaders mostly become leaders because they are good at their job . . . or were good at another job and as a result landed their current job. It is tough to confront leaders for so many reasons: They don’t like being told they’re wrong and even if they are okay with being told they’re wrong, there is a perception that they don’t like it. They often hold the fate of the one doing the confronting in their hand, which makes it scary.

  1. No One Likes Saying “We Got This Wrong” — It requires an admission that there is a serious problem, that someplace someone along the way either made a serious strategic or tactical decision that needs correcting. Too often, what ends up happening is the blame game. It is the economy or the marketplace or blah blah blah. The bottom line is that things are not good and need to be fixed.

I bet every single person reading this article can think of a time this happened in their organization and that is not good. In fact, if you are a leader, I bet you can see places in your leadership journey where you suffered from this problem.

Great leaders know that change represents opportunity. New competition . . . cool stuff, let’s figure out how to be better than the new competition. The economy tanks . . . let’s figure out how to be the very best tanked economy senior living organization.

To get there we must each have the courage to speak up when we see a problem.