The Epic Fail is not asking for help


Today, fellow HR blogger Neil Morrison ( wrote a great piece entitled ‘We Need To Talk About Failure’. You can read it here. An exceptionally well written piece as i’ve realised is the norm from Mr Morrison, its left a lingering thought in my mind about not only accepting failure as an outcome that we can learn from, but about recognising and accepting failure as it occurs, and asking for help.

This resonated so strongly, i’ve decided to blog about it while the thoughts are still raw in my mind.

In Neil’s blog he explained about how we find it hard to accept failure, and how we spin failure into success and I suppose we’ve all been guilty of that at one time or another.

It had me thinking about specific times where i’ve been failing at a task and have refused to accept that failure is what is actually happening. In the circumstances I can recall, I remember having tunnel vision, knowing what needed to be done, creating a plan and strategy that I have convinced myself would work, ignoring the signs that deep-down I knew were bigger than they actually were but dealt with them as trivialities, and overcompensated on the positive outcomes without going back and addressing the areas that had failed.

So Neil, here’s me accepting failure. I’m human. I will fail many, many times in the future. But why did I convince myself that I wasn’t failing?

Was I being stubborn? Did I think I knew best? Was I too proud to ask for help? Was I out to prove a point? Was I petrified of failure?

Probably yes, to all of those things to a certain degree.

In the last half of my career i’ve managed staff in a range of companies and i’ve never minded failure. You know, unless its likely to be catastrophic, which it usually never is. Primarily i’ve encouraged members of my team to come to me if they need support when they recognise that they are failing, although i’ve never called it that. I’ve encouraged my colleagues to use me as a sounding board and sense-check because in my view, from learning from earlier experiences, this will help to recognise failure as it happens, in real-time.

The reason I do this, is because its easier to take corrective action and get tasks back on track, or abandoned earlier in some cases, than to invest time and effort in something that might be a waste of time, or in some cases damaging. You can often re-engineer a failing task if recognised early enough, however, it’s human nature to plough through to a false conclusion and tell ourselves that we succeeded, when really, we didn’t.

“All of us will fail this week in small and inconsequential ways”. Neil Morrison.

What disappoints me most about failure isn’t the act of failing itself. As Neil eloquently put in his post, “All of us will fail this week in small and inconsequential ways”. It’s Monday as I write this and i’ve already gone over on my calorie allowance, day one into my new diet – i’ve failed already!

No, what disappoints and saddens me, is when we are failing and don’t ask for help.

When this happens, with my colleagues, friends and even managers, I feel as if i’ve failed too, because I become concerned that the reason that person hasn’t come to me for help, isn’t because they have tunnel vision, or are being stubborn, or that they were out to prove a point, which are all perfectly plausible explanations, it’s that they might have felt they couldn’t ask me for help. I’m an approachable person though, so I do ponder on it and don’t take it personally as I recognise it might be one of the several other reasons that I have outlined.

It’s so important to be able to stop and evaluate the task in hand, but especially if there are some tell-tale signs that we should listen to. Might even be intuition.

We should all take some time and speak to people and ask for help if its needed. Support from each other, from colleagues, mentors, your PLN, is what we need to do more of.

So I fully agree with Neil and his excellent blog post. We must talk more about failure. We must recognise its normal, it can be helpful and it shouldn’t be anything we are afraid of. But also we must not be afraid to ask for help. After all, needing help is normal too.