Cut your losses to keep a failed project from wrecking your career.
Updated: August 16, 2017
You can’t win ‘em all – but you can cut your losses.
President Donald Trump has announced that he is terminating two presidential business advisory councils after a series of defections by business executives following his equivocal remarks on this past weekend’s fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. The exodus was triggered by Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who is African American and resigned on Monday from the White House Manufacturing Council. He was followed by the heads of 3M, Campbell’s Soup, Under Armour and Intel, among others.
Also disbanding is the Strategy and Policy Forum led by financier Stephen Schwarzman, where members were reportedly preparing to quit even before Trump’s decision. Trump had heavily criticized Frazier but said on Twitter Wednesday that he would shut down the councils instead of pressuring them to support his agenda.
Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017
This is not the first time the President who said Americans would be sick of winning has had to declare failure. His bid to kill Obamacare died last month after a fellow Republican, Senator John McCain of Arizona dramatically voted against so-called “skinny repeal” of the American Health Care Act.
The GOP isn’t alone in that respect. Work on the proposed New York Wheel, a 630-foot tall giant Ferris wheel on Staten Island, has been delayed indefinitely after the developer fired the designer and builder last week. Too bad $400 million has already been spent on the tourist attraction that may never open.
The bigger a project is, the harder it falls – and it happens all of the time. Movies bomb (see: “King Arthur” and “Baywatch”), slews of shows get canceled after only one season (R.I.P. “The Catch,” “Doubt” and “Training Day” this year.) And 1 in 10 Kickstarter projects fail.
“Nobody great has ever bat a thousand. We are not going to win 100% of the time,” Mark Zablow, CEO of Cogent Entertainment Marketing, told Moneyish. “But we need to treat every failure as a lesson, and identify what the reasons for the failure to launch are, so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Moneyish tapped the expertise of Zablow and Monster.com career advisor Vicki Salemi for tips on how to flip the script on a failed project so that it doesn’t wreck your reputation.
Own it. Address this head-on if it comes up in job interview, or when you’re vying to lead another project. Highlight what you did right, and reframe your mistakes as lessons learned. Salemi suggested something like, “I led a team of 20 people for two years, and we were ready to launch, but we lost our budget at the very end. Going forward, I realize long-term projects like this should be worked on in shorter increments, with more feedback or sign-offs along the way.”
Get ahead of the gossip. If colleagues are saying you “blew it,” stick up for yourself without getting defensive. Say something like, “I worked hard, and I was multi-tasking in handling an internal audit for nine months and also hiring three new people for this project, on top of my regular job duties – so cut me some slack.”
Rally the troops. It’s likely you had a full team pouring their blood, sweat and tears into this, and as their leader, you need to boost morale. Salemi suggests meeting outside of the office, like at a restaurant or backyard BBQ. “Credit them for working so hard on this, and maybe give them a perk, like summer Fridays through Labor Day,” she said.
Don’t point fingers. When addressing what the team could do better, don’t single any one person out. Mention that as a team, we all need to follow up on calls, or pay closer attention to details. “If there was one specific person who dropped the ball, pull them aside and talk to them privately,” Salemi said. Avoid publicly pointing the finger, though. Especially on Twitter.
Get feedback. The last thing you probably want to hear is everything you did wrong, but how else are you going to learn? “We always follow up with the clients who passed on us, and ask them to tell us honestly where we weren’t strong,” said Zablow. “So for the next client, the next campaign, the next brand, we don’t face that challenge.”
Embrace your new skillset. “You need to think, ‘How can I leverage this for my overall career?’” said Salemi. Say you were trying to launch a new digital platform that fell flat. At least you’ve learned new software, or maybe you’ve made connections with web developers or built a roster of freelancers. “You can add all of this to your resume,” said Salemi.
Revisit it later. Maybe you couldn’t get the funding for a project now, or you got a new CEO and your business is moving in a different direction. It doesn’t always mean your idea or project wasn’t a good one; maybe the timing wasn’t right. “It’s like the Hollywood script that gets put in a drawer and saved,” Zablow said. “Hold onto it, and figure out what part of it could be used later.”
Katerina Ang contributed to this article.
This story was updated on August 16 2017 with news of President Trump disbanding two advisory councils.
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