Get Back Up!

The image of Mikaela Shiffrin sitting on the sidelines after skiing off course and not completing her second competitive race at the 2022 Beijing Olympics played out on a global screen. Her failure humanized the Olympics for me and for many others. In that moment, I thought: It’s okay. She’ll pick herself up and try again and do better next time.

As a marketing professional, this is a scenario I have played out several times in my career. In sports and in business, failure happens. Learning from failure, persevering, and getting back up to try again should lead to different outcomes. It did for Mikaela. It has for me.

I hate to lose. Okay, maybe we all do. I have learned to channel my disappointment into actionable steps that lead to better outcomes the next time. In the professional services industry, where I have worked for most of my career, firms commonly compete with other firms to win work. Most often, firms must prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP) response and participate in an interview with the prospective client. Depending on the size of the project, firms can spend weeks if not years of effort moving through the process.  Losing after one of these efforts feels almost like losing at the Olympics.

I worked for many years leading marketing for a large, national architectural and engineering firm. We competed for large, multi-million-dollar projects and invested substantial resources into our win strategy and final presentations. After having lost a few of those, I learned the importance of having a recovery plan in place. I implemented that process to learn from and improve our performances and chances of winning for the next time. And we did win.

The Recovery Plan

A few days after Beijing, Mikaela assessed her performance and started working on a strategy to improve for the next time. She and her coach reviewed her tapes and analyzed her every move. She competed again several weeks after the Olympics in Courchevel, France. She put her strategy to work and clinched the World Cup overall title with a second-place finish in the Super-G at the Alpine World Cup Finals. You can emulate world-class athletes like Mikaela by taking these steps after a loss. The first step is to get back up and then:

  1. Remain optimistic. Optimism and believing in your ability to do better the next time is crucial. The most successful business development leaders I have worked with have this quality of picking themselves back up, not beating themselves up, and working hard to lead their teams to the next pursuit and win. Dwelling on the negative is the last thing you want to do. Rather, look at the loss from the stance of learning from the mistakes or finding areas for improvement.
  2. Assess your performance. Take stock in what went wrong. Athletes spend hours reviewing their performance and that of their competitors to understand what they need to improve for the next competition. This might require reviewing the effort with your team. Do an internal debrief of the situation. Start with what went well in the process and performance and then move on to the areas you and your team see for improvement. If you could do it over again, what would you do? Document this.
  3. Seek input from others. Next, get insights from the outside. Contact the prospective client and ask for a formal debrief. Government organizations are often required to provide these; even if they are not, they often will. Private organizations may also provide feedback if you ask. In my opinion, good clients give helpful feedback. If an organization is unwilling to do so, you might think about this prospect as one to leave off your list and move on to others. There is an art to asking questions in a debrief. (Contact me for a copy of “The Artful Debrief” for suggestions of what and how to ask.) Ask what the deciding factors were in choosing the successful firm. Research the successful firm. If you partnered with another firm or teaming partner, contact the partner and ask for their candid feedback and any additional information they can provide. In my role at the architecture and engineering firm, I often worked with consultants who brought a specific expertise to our team. These consultants often have a relationship with the client or the competition and may be able to provide additional insights. They also might have participated in an interview with another team and can share the perspective of what the winning team did. Use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process to see the winning team’s proposal. Learn from what they did. Document this. Create a debrief file accessible to your team and others in the company. When you win, you should also debrief the client to understand why you were selected. We can all learn from others’ successes and failures.
  4. Regroup and strategize. Now that you have assessed your performance with your internal and external sources, take stock and create an action plan for how you will improve your performance for the next time. For each area of improvement, have an action item for what you will do the next time. For example, if your internal team offers that the interview prep was disorganized and last minute, make sure to plan better for the next interview. This includes communicating early with the team and scheduling prep meetings in advance, each with an agenda so that attendees know how and what to be prepared. If the client provides feedback that the team was not sufficiently staffed and lacked the experience of relevant projects, make sure the next team is comprised of staff with relevant qualifications and emphasize this during the proposal and interview. Learning from and acting on the feedback is critical to future successes.
  5. Create an action plan. Now that you have documented the feedback and assessed the areas of weakness, create actionable steps to make sure the same mistakes do not happen again. If you plan to pursue work with the same client, follow through with any suggestions the client provided. Stay in touch with them and stay knowledgeable about new opportunities they have for you or your firm. Be proactive so that you are better prepared for the next pursuit armed with your new information and strategy.

When we are willing to learn from its instruction, failure can be a positive force to move us forward. Striving for gold is the ultimate goal, but, in the end, failure demands getting back up when you fall. As for Mikaela Shiffrin, I am glad she got back up, finished two races in the 2022 Olympics and competed and won the World Cup. She showed the world that her failure did not defeat her.

Author Bio: Susan Radzyminski is the leader of CMO for Hire at BST & Co., an accounting and business advisory firm located in Albany, NY. She has worked in the professional services and financial services industries for more than 30 years, leading brand and marketing initiatives for national firms. To receive a copy of “The Artful Debrief,” email Susan at