Better, Smarter, Faster- Helping Create a Safe Space to Fail Fast to Learn Fast

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**Welcome to a series of posts about what leadership looks like at D2L. Here at D2L, we recently shared the leadership competencies/behaviours that we know are required to transform the way the world learns. We considered both business and client goals and needs, and our drive to continue to disrupt the world of learning for K-12, Higher Ed and Corporate Learning. The competencies we decided upon aren’t new. They aren’t rocket science. They don’t come with cute little sayings. But we believe in them. And know they will set the stage for people to do the best work of their lives here at D2L all while helping to make learning more engaging, accessible and inspiring.**

At D2L, we’re on a mission to transform the way the world learns. And we’re doing it using technology!

We’re not in an industry where we’re afforded the luxury of taking our time (is anyone, really?). In an economy and industry that is disruptive and ever changing, our organization requires leaders and individual contributors who are not only ready to change, but demonstrate an urgency to innovate, to fail fast to learn fast and to do their part to inspire a culture of relentless improvement.

  • Are we explicitly challenging the status quo (and are we making it safe for others to do so?)?
  • Are we willing (when safe and appropriate) to allow something to be 80% done so that we can gather feedback, iterate and make it even better? Or do we suffer analysis and feedback paralysis?
  • Are we seizing the opportunities as they are presented to us to do things as they have never been done? Or do we revert back to- but this is how we’ve always done it?

Even for those who don’t like change, it’s hard to challenge the belief that, it is truly in times of change, growth and innovation- those times that we are truly tested- when the potential for the greatest personal and organizational growth exists.

We want (and need) a culture where everyone feels it’s their place to make D2L better by virtue of seeing and seizing opportunities. We want (and need) for people to feel safe to try and fail in order for us to learn and move on. We don’t want decision making to be laborious and too time consuming or else opportunities to grow and innovate might pass us by. We want (and need) to hear more “but why have we always done it that ways?” and want (and need) more people to be willing to truly consider that question.

Are you reading between the lines yet? Is it obvious what underpins this particular leadership competency? It’s trust! Low trust causes friction and withholding and fear. It SLOWS everything down. High trust facilitates speed and safety and results. Trust is not soft. It is an “actionable asset” that we can create. (Our 2017 LEAD group is reading The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey this year as part of our book club. It might be of interest to you too!).

And how can we offer up a trusting and safe environment for our leaders and individual contributors to truly be Better, Smarter, Faster? It is the culmination of our behavior at every micro moment.

  • Someone screwed up, how did you react?
  • You said you’d have someone’s back, did you follow through?
  • YOU screwed up, did you own it?
  • Your employee comes to you with an ‘out of the box’ idea, how quickly did you slam it?
  • Your leader asks for ideas and suggestions on how to improve the team, do you respond? Do you complain about the team behind her back?

Every micro moment allows us an opportunity to build up the foundation that is needed for people to feel safe enough to try, to move forward, to fail.

We see Better, Smarter, Faster when an individual contributor proactively suggests a change or improvement on our PIE (Product Idea Exchange) or CAKE (Company Actions for Killer Execution) platforms.

We see Better, Smarter, Faster when a formal leader explicitly supports and challenges her team to take risks, to improve processes and to make suggestions. Extra bonus points when said leader does so by always connecting back to purpose. (Taking risks, getting better, smarter, faster, and being willing to fail fast to learn fast are all that much more enticing when I am deeply connected to the bigger why).

We see Better, Smarter, Faster when a team gathers to do a retro after something goes wrong. The retro looks back at what happened in a non-blaming way so that we can quickly look forward to learning and growing and doing better next time.

So, let’s work on it…..

  1. Go into your calendar right now. Book a once a quarter “Better, Smarter, Faster” session. Piggy backing off or our Be Boundaryless competency, design the session to have opportunities for both team members as well as external stakeholders to safely brainstorm/challenge/consider new and creative ways to work as well.
  2. Take some time to review ‘standard’ work practices in your department and ask yourself – “Is there a better, smarter, faster way to do this?” Consider Wal-Mart’s method ETDT: “Eliminate the Dumb Things.” Create formalized opportunities to challenge the status quo.
  3. Celebrate the learning/process. Everyone likes a good celebration/opportunity for recognition. If we only ever celebrate when things go perfectly right or the final outcome, the road can seem daunting. Why even start? Why even try? And there’s nothing that squashes a culture’s ability to inspire relentless improvement faster than people getting raked through the coals when they try and “fail.” We ask our employees to consider instead, to contributing to the “Kudos” and “Lessons Learned” Slack channels. Lead by Example by spending an equal amount of time discussing and celebrating the learning and trying.
  4. Have an idea to improve something around here, don’t be shy! We encourage our employees to share their suggestions on our PIE or CAKE discussion boards. Do your employees know where to share their suggestions for relentless improvement?

Most people aren’t comfortable with what is perceived to be ‘failure.’ That discomfort will only be amplified if it is accompanied by intensely negative responses to even trying. We MUST have a space were Better, Smarter, Faster is the way of the world here at D2L. Humbly consider your part in the bigger safety/trust picture and give some of the above suggestions a try (and yes, I believe that the 4 suggestions are accessible to both people leaders and individual contributors alike…..nothing wrong with an individual contributor making some of the above suggestions to his/her leader!). Good luck!

**We have set Better, Smarter, Faster as one of the necessary leadership competencies here at D2L. We are humble enough to know that simple saying something doesn’t make it so. We recognize and celebrate those who do it well. We tell the stories of what good looks like. We are embedding the competencies into our onboarding programs. You’ll see them in our job descriptions. We’re developing learning opportunities to allow these capabilities to be strengthened in our formal and informal leaders alike. We continue to work at holding each other accountable by increasing our opportunities to provide each other regular and in the moment feedback. Sometimes we succeed and some days…..Meh….Sometimes this stuff is easy. Sometimes, it requires a bit more bravery. But it’s worth it all of the time.***