Countless times while speaking with an employee, presenting to a group of participants, or even in my classroom teaching experiences, I have indicated that, in business, “failure is not an option.”

But while watching TV recently, a commercial played that challenged this long-held assumption. 

A large, well-known pizza chain was promoting the fact that, in their company, failure was indeed an option. They went on to highlight the many product failures Thinkstock/Ingram Publishingthat have occurred over the years, even providing examples of some. An executive vice president was quoted on the topic, saying: “We cannot be afraid to fail. It sounds crazy, but it’s who we are.”

A few years back, Chuck Violand and I put together a booklet entitled Removing Barriers to Your Company’s Success. In it, we highlighted eight failures in which owners and managers often engage that impede organizational success. They are:

  1. Failure to communicate
  2. Failure to delegate
  3. Failure to set expectations
  4. Failure to hold employees accountable
  5. Failure to execute
  6. Insistence on micro-managing
  7. Failure to develop people
  8. Failure to confront

In this article, I would like to reflect on the two failures that I most often encounter in the restoration and cleaning industries: Failure to hold employees accountable and failure to develop people.

Failure to hold people accountable (Nice Guy Condition)

Setting expectations for our people is one thing. Holding them accountable to deliver on those expectations is quite another.

In my opinion, one of the leading reasons for not holding employees accountable is that many business owners are caring and generous people. They want to be liked by the customers they serve and by the people who work for them. They want to avoid confrontation whenever possible. Since holding people accountable for their performance can place them squarely in the path of confrontation, many owners avoid the confrontation and let things slide. The downside is that failing to hold people accountable for the small things usually leads to having to hold them accountable later on for bigger things.

Another reason we don’t hold our people accountable is that we fear the consequences of our actions if we do. For example, we’re afraid they’ll quit. For a service technician, that could mean we have to go out and clean carpet ourselves. For a production manager or office manager, that could mean they’ll leave with a lot of information between their ears (or on a flash drive). Situations like these are tag-teamed with the owner’s innate fear of confrontation mentioned above.

We rationalize the cost-benefit equation of holding the person accountable versus having them quit. We either consciously or subconsciously calculate the time to recruit and train someone new, the emotional toll on ourselves and our people, and the disruption cost to our work flow, and then base our decision on that. All too often, we turn our backs on poor performance and fail to hold our people accountable.

Failure to develop people

There have been countless articles written and training programs given on the qualities necessary for effective leadership. A common theme found throughout, however, revolves around the belief that great leaders work tirelessly to develop employees to the fullest extent possible.

In their book, The Talent Masters, Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers, Bill Conaty and Ram Charan wrote: “If businesses managed their money as carelessly as they manage their people, most would be bankrupt.”

As a leader in your organization, one of your chief responsibilities is to ensure that your team members develop their skills, knowledge, and competencies. As a leader, you have a unique perspective on development: you are aware of each team member’s strengths and growth areas and at the same time, you are fully aware of the organizational needs. Your job becomes one of matching the development needs of your employees with the needs of the organization.

How can you foster employee development? The most successful high-growth companies support this culture by engaging in the following activities:

  • Conduct an assessment with your employee to identify strengths, skills gaps, or challenge areas.
  • Establish employee “ownership.”
  • Get the individual’s commitment to his areas of developmental need and identify what specific training, education, and development are required for success.
  • Inform the employee of the “must dos” so that they understand what is expected of them.

Your goal of helping employees achieve their potential through successful development is one of the most rewarding aspects of leadership. In addition, it will help attract and retain valuable talent and resources.

So, while the pizza company may believe that failure is an option, in the highly competitive industries in which we all work, I think it’s safe to say failure, when it comes to our most important assets — our employees — is not.

Scott Tackett joined Violand Management Associates (VMA) with a 32-year background in manufacturing, human resource management and organizational leadership. He is currently a business development advisor for VMA where he works closely with business owners and their key management staff as both a business consultant and an executive coach. To learn more about VMA’s services and programs visit or call (330) 966-0700.