What’s “Wrong?”

Last week, a client who leads the competitive analytics function at his company was dealing with a burst of turmoil and stress. He was certain he did something wrong, and this was a big one.

Surprisingly, the winning bid on a prospective deal came in 30% below his prediction. He never missed the mark by this much. Typically, he was within 1-2%.

For him, being right vs. being wrong – in other words, “success” – was dictated by the outcome the business achieved. Not only was this definition binary – win or lose – the competition or client determined his success.

When he talked about what could happen by being wrong, he rattled off a two-minute stream of thoughts that spelled doom and gloom – everything from executives calling him on the carpet to defend himself, to his feeling embarrassed, or to ultimately losing his credibility and job.

This could have been a big spiral for him. To some extent uncertainty drove his interpretation of what this could mean for him, but mostly this was fear playing out.

We discussed what his role really is about and boiled it down to two fundamental responsibilities – solving problems and preventing undesired outcomes.

After all, aren’t these at the core of most leaders’ priorities?

Broaden Your Perspective

With this in mind, I suggested relooking with this new lens at what being “wrong” means. This helped him take himself out of the center of the situation (less ego + less fear) and instead broaden his focus by answering one simple, straightforward question:

What else might be going on here?

Here are some other possibilities he came up with:

  • The other company might have erred in pricing their proposal.
  • The competitor could be willing to lose money on this deal or was willing to win it at all costs.
  • His company wouldn’t have been willing to take the deal at this price.
  • There’s been a fundamental shift in the market that requires his company to examine its pricing.
  • The other company found a way to deliver their service at a much lower incremental cost.
  • His should review his model to make sure there aren’t any fundamental errors in it.

This substantially lowered the heat he felt. By focusing less on the outcome (losing a deal) and more on the process (ensuring that bids are priced appropriately and yield the targeted return), fear was replaced with objectivity, curiosity, and motivation to understand more deeply what led to the surprise.

That in turn led to an effective debrief with the senior team that was far less reactive and more forward-focused on how his group would prepare and perform on the next competitive bid.

Get Unstuck

When you find yourself “navel gazing” or stuck “admiring the problem,” here are some questions to shift you into action:

  1. What is your definition of “wrong?”
  2. How is your definition limiting you or holding you back?
  3. Where are you guessing or accepting as “truth” that may not be altogether true?
  4. What do you need to focus on to replace speculation with certainty?

For more perspective and tips on bouncing back from unintended or unexpected outcomes, check out this article on why you cannot make a mistake (it’s true!).