This is, of course, the second half of the saying, “Success has many fathers”, but is it true?
I would suggest that failure isn’t an orphan, it’s an orphanage.
Harry S. Truman famously kept a sign on his desk stating “The Buck Stops Here”, but as admirable as that is, rarely is there a single cause of failure.
This is especially true when a business fails. People are wont to point the finger.
- “The investors pulled the plug – it’s their fault”,
- “It’s the Board’s fault - they should have seen this coming”,
- “It’s Management’s fault - they didn’t communicate/kept changing strategy, etc.”,
- “It’s Engineering’s fault – they couldn’t hit a delivery date”,
- “It’s Sales’ fault - they kept missing quota”,
- “It’s HR’s fault - they didn’t recruit the right people”,
- “It’s Finance’s fault – they didn’t keep an eye on cash”,
- Etc., etc.
The point is, that there is rarely a shortage of contributing factors when a business fails, and lots of targets for blame.
Is failure an orphan? Definitely not. When businesses fail, rather than pointing fingers, everyone needs to look in the mirror and ask what they could have done differently to help avoid the situation. Rather than chirping from the sidelines or being passive-aggressive, could I have been more pro-active? Rather than complaining to peers about “leadership”, did I display leadership in my own sphere of influence? Were my positive contributions outweighed by negativity?
Where does the buck stop?
I wish I had the definitive answer. Is it the CEO, who is essentially the QB for the business? Many would agree, but what if the Head coach/Board is doing the play calling? What if the Offensive Line coach isn’t in touch with his players? What if the offensive line isn’t working as a unit and giving the QB time and space to make the plays? If one or more of these is the case, does the buck stop with the CEO? Or does the buck stop with each individual?
While it is tempting to look for a single cataclysmic event as the root cause for the failure of a business, it is more frequently due to the process of erosion…imperceptible at first, but obvious over time.
Failure isn’t an orphan, it’s an orphanage.
That’s my .02!