My friend, Tim Sackett, has a post/video up about Failure Being The New Black. His hypothesis is that we've all been fed a load of crap when it comes to failure. His point is that all the new age thinking that failure is good in careers/business is total BS - and we ought to be more focused on success, not failure.
Is big failure OK? No - because you should have done some homework and seen it coming.
The goal should be designing change in your company in a way that makes failure as small as possible. To do that, you have to be disciplined in your approach to experimentation.
There are a lot of buzzwords out there that I could use here - Agile, Lean, Scrum, Kanban - just to name a few. I'm an expert in none of those - but I think we can learn a lot from broad principles pulled from some of these development methodologies.
Let's say you're going to change how recruiting is delivered at your company. You could put a big project plan together, slides, etc - and go on an approval tour in your company to show how this change is going to rock everyone's world.
You might believe it - but it's 50/50 at best that it's going to work. If you fail, that's a big failure and not OK - and you're just proving Tim's point.
But if you simply carve out 5 open jobs, create a hypothesis of what you think will happen if you treat those a different way, then conduct an experiment and measure the results before deciding to try and sell the change globally - you're actually using broad Agile/Lean/Scrum/Kanban principles.
It's called Minimum Viable Product - which is designed to test your assumption before you spend a lot of money/time and potentially fail spectacularly. Let's say there are 10 sub-strategies related to your big recruiting change. Why not test one of those strategies on 5 jobs and see what happens, then evaluate it in an objective fashion?
Small failure is OK, big failure is not. It sounds like a cliche, but failing fast - and cheap - is the way to go. It's also the way to prove ideas for big change as part of a bigger plan.
If you fail spectacularly, you probably suck. You should have broken it up and experienced the lighter pain waaaaaay earlier.