The Power of Perspective: Why Every Company Needs to be Asking ‘What Went Right?’

When teams aren’t hitting their targets, it’s in a good leader’s nature to ask, “What went wrong?” We seek to get down to the root causes of problems so they can be resolved. Even when things are running smoothly and we’re hitting our targets, we still often worry about the multitude of factors or circumstances that could go wrong to send performance in the other direction.

While it’s smart to be proactive and vigilant about identifying potential issues, one thing we don’t do as often as we should is focus on what’s going right. In our quest for continuous improvement, this shift in perspective—looking for the source of success, so to speak—can be a positive and powerful way to help accelerate the high performance we envision.

Look at Performance Through a Lens of Success

When transitioning through a process change, it’s normal for an organization to see several cycles of ups and downs in their KPIs. Rarely is progress steady and continuous in just one direction. Rather, leaders typically witness saw tooth behavior: progress is made over a few days or a week, and then performance regresses closer to the mean for a day or two, even when the overall trajectory is positive.

It’s natural to focus on the setbacks and explore the reasons behind misses when reviewing performance. But it can be just as, if not more, valuable to explore the highlights and apply the same root cause analysis practices in order to understand the hits. Within those days or weeks where progress sored, what, specifically, contributed to the success? Why did the team or lines perform so well that day or week? Did the stars just happen to align? Or were there specific factors behind the success? And if so, are those circumstances repeatable and sustainable?

Changing our perspective to look at performance though a lens of success—asking what went right—can provide insight into behaviors and processes we can adopt to make stellar performance more of the norm and less of the exception. It can help us see which improvements we can further leverage and identify the best places to push the pedal down harder to accelerate performance and help our team grow.

See the Impossible as Possible

Small crisis situations that happen in operations provide another opportunity to ask and explore what went right. For example, in a situation where a customer milestone is at risk, the team often steps up to expedite deliverables. When your team pulls it off despite the odds, we usually focus the post-mortem on how the crisis happened in the first place and how to prevent it from occurring again. We also tend to assume some collateral damage—that we had to compromise quality cost, or even core values to make the schedule at any cost.

Fortunately, in companies with continuous improvement processes in place, this usually isn’t the case. Rather, a crisis can inspire innovative thinking or tweaks in a process that allow teams to achieve more than they thought possible. Teams working under the gun naturally find ways to cut through the inherent waste in processes, shorten lead times, and get the job done while still maintaining the company’s operating standards.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to capture those insights. Of course, no organization wants to operate in crisis mode all the time, and sometimes, success is a result of overtime or smart prioritization. But looking at what you did right in these situations can uncover potential improvements that could be implemented to enhance every day performance. If nothing else, it can help us see what’s possible when we’re firing on all cylinders.

The Impact of Positive Thinking

Finally, it’s just good business to celebrate success. The positive reinforcement and psychological benefits of spending time focusing on what the organization is doing right can go a long way toward motivating the team to sustain high performance. Good leaders use data-driven root cause analysis and problem solving to engage everyone in the business, build strong capabilities, and drive ownership. Flipping the script from time to time—looking at the hits as well as the misses—offers invaluable perspective that can help teams more clearly see progress and become more energized around the work they do and their contributions to the organization’s continued improvement and success.