Fighting a Fear of Failure
Resiliency professionals can suffer from performance anxiety and find themselves fighting a fear of failure. Many of us are celebrating the Spring holidays this week. As content creators and thought leaders, it’s drilled into us that constancy is the key to success. Certainly, resilience practitioners know that a cornerstone of a winning program includes an ongoing cadence of preparedness, exercises, and learning from events.
Then, rinse and repeat
How to Ward Against Failure Fear
What I’m talking about here, though, is a bias some have toward making missteps. For example, some organizations have a history of exercising Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). So this means that the key players already know the scenario, or it’s built to confirm approved procedures.
The downside of this approach is that it limits any learning capacity. Additionally, it confirms positivity bias amongst the participants. It is ultimately a disservice to the organization as it exposes it to risks. Namely, companies that don’t practice for the unknown leave themselves open to failure.
Preparing for the Unknown Unknowns
Love him or hate him, Donald Rumsfeld did share a useful concept around unknown unknowns. We discuss Black or Gray Swans and Snow Leopards as low-likelihood but high-impact events. If your business is only ever preparing for your most likely possibilities, it risks experiencing response paralysis when the unlikely occurs.
Yes, it does make sense to prepare for a hurricane if you live in the Southern US or a typhoon in Asia. Earthquakes should be top of mind for the Western states or the Ring of Fire. However, catastrophic crises have impacted many companies over the past few years. There’s a growing awareness of the instability caused by the cracks in our political and financial systems post-pandemic. These factors should push us to strive for an increased risk and resilience posture.
Why Drilling and Practice Tests Have Purpose
For example, fighting a fear of failure does not mean skimping on the basics. I fully expect your resiliency program to assess risk, map it, and conduct preparation to mitigate its damage. What concerns me is a positivity bias based on the survivability of past crises. Or too heavy a reliance on risk assessment to manage event response.
To minimize this and assist an organization’s natural tendency towards fighting a fear of failure, we should build confidence through gradually more challenging experiences. One must build confidence in stages. Start with drills, then step-up to exercises of increasing complexity—leverage tests in the technology space to understand capabilities and expose known gaps. Then, you will have a baseline of experience built up. Once achieved, graduate your business partners to scenarios that stretch their tolerances; to learn from engineered failures.
How to Overcome Risk-Crisis Friction
Of course, as dedicated professionals, we want to deliver meaningful exercises. Often, this means fulfilling the customer or stakeholder desires to prepare for the soup-de-jour of concerns that are top of mind. And yes, there is a place for preparation for hazards that the company is most at risk for, as I indicated.
But, as The Conference Board’s recent crisis preparedness outlook report highlights, CEOs trust their team to handle events already experienced. The worry that the organization is unprepared for unexpected events keeps them awake at night. Said more clearly, your executive leaders do not have confidence that your teams can adequately and quickly respond to new large-scale crises. Exercising the unknowns can help address this concern.
Here are some scenario-building ideas to consider to help simulate stress and expose gaps:
- Horizon Scan with a trusted exercise team and level up an issue based on past events or exercises.
- Talk to senior leadership about what would expose the org to a catastrophic crisis.
- Borrow from case studies and adapt them for the business to make them plausible.
- Extrapolate from “near-miss” events and develop a scenario that leans toward high-impact situations.
- Create a one-two punch. If one event (ex, natural disaster) would not impact enough of the org to stress test your response or recover teams, increase the intensity. Add injects or throws in a curve ball (ex., adjacent or subsequent outage) that wargames responses on multiple flanks.
This can increase participation while keeping your teams working, hopefully to a breaking limit. Often, we are asked to “keep it real” and only utilize plausible scenarios. However, as stated, this is a limiting approach. Instead, we must push the envelope and test the org past its comfort zone. Many thought they were ready for pandemics, but COVID proved us wrong. As I mentioned in a recent blog, Are We Exercising Too Small? Not taking that leap to enterprise-wide or extreme situations is a risk.
What You Can Do
So, fighting a fear of failure in this context is having the mindfulness to gauge your company’s maturity level. If the crisis teams or leadership is underprepared to respond to the most likely events, by all means, start there. If, however, your exercise catalog only covers the known ground, an unplanned event—the defining characteristic of crisis—can and will bite you.
To those who know the company is playing it safe, work with your leadership to advocate for increased complexity. All indicators are that increasingly complex events are on our horizon. Set your baselines and challenge your company’s perspective. Fighting a fear of failure may seem risky, but ultimately, it will reap dividends. It improves time-to-value, and no one is ever upset when resources are leveraged in dynamic scenarios. Instead, people are thankful when the next crisis happens and are prepared- if not for the same hazard—that they understand the response framework and have the confidence to handle extreme circumstances.
Do you agree? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. I want to hear from you.
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