Don't volunteer for failure: Always show the cost of success

cost failure

When the expectations are bigger than the resources

Recently, I have been getting the same question over and over again from people in many different companies and industries. It takes many different forms, but the basic idea is this:

“What should I do when I am being asked to deliver something without enough resources to do it?”

This challenge becomes a critical point in your career because you need to find a way to deliver the best possible outcome, without setting yourself up to try and do something totally impossible (which by definition you will fail at).

If you go forth and try to make it happen without clarifying expecations and resources up front, you set yourself up for a big risk.

Conversely, if you say, “I don’t have the resources to do that” in an unstructured way, you might also take a credibility hit.

So what do you do?

The three converations you need to lead:

1. Show the scope of the journey out of the hole you are in
2. Highlight the choices of outcomes and costs
3. Share the problem that WE have

1. Show the size and scope of the hole that you are in

The problem is that the executives do not understand the scope of what they are asking. They are entirely focused on the outcome that they want, and they want you to make it happen.

To them it seems straightforward (cheap) to get the improvement, because they don’t fully understand why, or even that they are in a hole. They know they are not performing, but because they do not have your expertise, they can’t see the 37 reasons why.

If you don’t show them the reality, there is a good chance they will believe that only thing between where they are now and best in class performance is YOU, with no additional staff, budget or time to get there.

Don’t let this happen. Act right away.

Create something that looks kind of like this. The left axis is whatever it takes to be competitive in your space.

Status Reality

2. Highlight the choices of outcomes and costs

You need to show the true cost of the big outcome they want.

Then you need to give the management choices for different levels of outcomes that cost different amounts.

OK, if you only increase my budget 10% we can fix these things, and add one item, but we can’t add most of the competitive features. If that’s the funding choice you make, this is what you will get.

The chart looks something like this:

Budget Options

This way you are still building credibility by showing that you can do the complete job, but you are not shooting yourself in the foot by signing up for the impossible.

3. Share the problem that WE have

The impossible is stressful!

Don’t put all the pressure on yourself to try to do the impossible without the necessary resources, becasue you will feel like you are personally failing when it can’t be done, when in reality this is not your problem alone.

This is a choice that the company needs to make.

Your job is to shine the spotlight on clearly defined choices.

Do yourself a favor and make sure you paint the reality clearly as soon as you can, and only sign up for as much as you can get funded.

1. Share the knowledge of the scope of the journey
2. Share the decision about the level of investment and expected outcomes with the management team
3. Make sure everyone has the same definition of success. It’s not just you who should feel the pressure

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.


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You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

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