Failure Modes

Every function has its own failure mode.

The failure mode of engineering is perfectionism: elegant architectures that are never quite “done”, and often solve the wrong problem entirely.

The failure mode of marketing is tactics: individual campaigns and their metrics supersede overall strategy (brand, positioning, value).

The failure mode of sales is quota-centrism: hitting sales targets at the cost of building long-term relationships with happy customers.

The failure mode of HR is proceduralism: putting process and paperwork above the nuances and needs of actual people.

The failure mode of accounting is pedantry: reconciling every last penny, but missing the often-unique, often-inexact metrics that actually matter.

The failure mode of operations is over-optimization: the more efficient your machinery, the more vulnerable it is to situations out of the ordinary.

The failure mode of legal is combativeness: over-aggressive terms that detract from the win-win nature of all successful partnerships.

You’ll notice two things about all of these failure modes.

First, they all represent desirable behaviour, taken to extremes. Indeed, many people would describe these failure modes as “best practices”.

Good engineers have high standards. Good marketers excel at tactics. Good salespeople hit quotas. Good HR managers implement process.

But it’s possible to take these too far.

Second, these failure modes are all – without exception – the result of missing the forest for the trees. A lack of perspective.

Functional excellence can lead to tunnel vision. You get so good at a particular task, you don’t see anything other than that task. And that way lies disaster.

Alignment on vision is one way to avoid or at least mitigate these failure modes. It gives people perspective; it helps them prioritize; it makes them productive.

Knowing the big picture is important – not just for leaders, but all the way down the ranks.

People who know the “why” are far more effective at executing the “how”.

Essay version of this thread here.