By Steve Moran

In most organizations, including senior living, failure equals punishment, humiliation, embarrassment, and even termination. There is no doubt that sometimes failures are so catastrophic, or potentially catastrophic, that termination is the only reasonable course of action.

But fortunately those cases are rare.

In the very best organizations, failure is an opportunity to grow and learn. Failures are seen in the context of experiments, where the outcome of that experiment is always a valuable lesson — whether the experiment is successful or something else.

When Failures Happen

The biggest thing that gets missed is that most often, when failures happen, they are caused by the failure of the management system:

  • Team members are asked to do more than they can possibly do well in the time allocated.
  • Team members are not given adequate training, which makes failure all but inevitable.
  • Team members are not trusted, which means they simply don’t care that much. It is not conscious, but team members will never, ever care more than their leaders care.
  • Team members are afraid, and that means they will do the safe thing or do nothing at all, when something needs to be done.

The Biltmore Fails

A while back, I stayed at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. It is a 100-year-old property with a great reputation. In its heyday it was a place frequented by the Hollywood elite and movers and shakers in government and industry. Six presidents have stayed there, as well as Al Capone. It is the place JFK was nominated in 1960.

I checked in, went to a conference, and was back to my room about 8:15 p.m. It was cold. I turned up the heat, did some work, and realized it was still freezing. I fiddled with the controls and waited another 10 minutes. It was getting colder.

I called the front desk, and they asked if I wanted them to send engineering to the room. (This should have been my first clue that things were not going to go well.) I waited 20 minutes and nothing. Called back and was told, “This is a big hotel, and engineering must be doing other things and will get to you sometime.”

I pushed back, and they offered to put a rush on the request.

At this point I was done, told them I wanted another room. They agreed but told me I would have to go to the front desk to get a new key.

When I got there I did get a new room that was slightly upgraded from the old one, and finally about 9:30, I settled into a good night’s sleep.

It would have been so easy for them to, on the first call, offer me a choice between engineering and a new room.

It would have been so easy for them to offer me a huge room upgrade. … After all, there is at least one presidential suite. Maybe that would be too big an ask, but imagine the story I would be telling and writing if that had happened.

They could have offered a free cocktail, a bottle of wine, a credit on my bill, or something — none of which would have cost much and any of which would have gotten me, or anyone, to tell a very different story.

Why It Didn’t Happen

I don’t blame the hotel for the AC being broken. Maybe I should, but things happen, and you don’t always know until after they happen. But the more interesting question is why no one on the staff did anything more than the bare minimum.

I am convinced that it comes down to two things:

  1. They were afraid of getting in trouble for “giving away” too much.
  2. They simply didn’t care, because their bosses, their supervisors don’t care.

If they had a celebration of failure policy at this hotel, I would be telling you a crazy cool story about how they made it right.

As a side note: I know a lot of leaders are enamored with hiring people from the hotel world. I am not. Hotel people know how to be polite and to pretend to care as long as things go according to plan. Over and over again, I see them failing when things are out of the norm.

What’s it like to fail in your organization?