Failing Less Starts With More Honest Feedback


Research conducted some years ago suggested that 75% of organizational initiatives fail. I created an 8-minute video to talk about why this is the case.

…But there is another reason that I want to discuss today.

Most organizational initiatives require an enormous amount of resourcing from people, equipment, and even consultants.

Big decisions such as these are often collaborative…as opposed to made in a vacuum…and this is a good thing. However, to have productive discussions during collaborative decision-making, team members have to feel comfortable telling the truth.

In my experience, amid a big initiative rollout (or even before it starts), some key employees know just where it will probably fail.

I also often see those same employees fail to raise key concerns when in the room with the leaders who own these initiatives.

Why is this?


As Amy Edmonson says, no one wants to look



…intrusive, or


And therefore, the human fallback strategy is to say nothing, ask no questions, and deliver no helpful feedback.

So…what can you do to combat this naturally self-protective strategy that most people will employ in uncertain situations?

If you want tough, honest, feedback, leaders must make it more satisfying, encouraging, and safer for people to deliver it. There are many ways to do this.

I see many leaders try to handle this by making announcements to their teams. “I want your honest feedback on x, y, and z.” This is the wrong way to think about it, in my opinion.

People look at your actions, not your words. Lots of research supports this, but it’s also common sense. One researcher even showed that 93% of communication is nonverbal.

People quickly figure out whether it’s safe to comment, ask a question, or give feedback or not based on their past experience with you, your current demeanor, and your reaction to others when they have done the same.

One thing you can focus on today. When you ask someone a question, ask for feedback, or someone brings you some news, how do you react in that moment? 

What does your face look like? The briefest expression of frustration in your face can discourage the person’s future feedback giving.

Remember that your initial reaction to someone telling you the truth can determine whether you get more of it or not.

But what if I AM frustrated? I’m not saying you can’t express your opinion, but I am saying that being sincerely grateful and thanking the person who gives you bad news or criticism improves the chances of them doing it again, and of others also doing it.

You can always debrief on the quality of performance or ideas curiously and logically after your emotional reaction has passed. This kind of feedback, especially when the performer wants it, has been shown to improve performance and change behavior dramatically. That’s the easy part. 

The hard part is mastering the self-management required to react properly in a tough situation as it is happening.

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