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Quality Digest


Using Failure to Succeed

Interview with Jon Beckstrand, CEO, MasterControl

Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2023 - 12:02

When MasterControl hosted the Masters Summit 2022 in Salt Lake City, Quality Digest CEO Jeff Dewar was one of the panelists. That gave him a chance to catch up with Jon Beckstrand, CEO of MasterControl, a company which provides its quality management system to more than 1,000 clients, primarily in the life sciences.

There was plenty of banter about Beckstrand’s professional history, recent projects, and MasterControl’s increasingly global reach, along with the ongoing challenges of staying in touch with a fast-growing company surpassing 750 employees. The questions soon turned to the unique corporate culture MasterControl is building, and how that culture drives the business and delivers value. Of particular interest were Beckstrand’s ideas on how failure can be useful in a successful process.

Quality Digest: When we covered MasterControl a couple of years ago, we highlighted this idea of the chief culture officer, which I thought was very innovative. We see more and more of that now. A lot of them sprang up during the pandemic.

Jon Beckstrand: When you talk about the market we’re in, we need to find people who are technical, who understand life sciences particularly, and also understand the disciplines of manufacturing and quality. It’s really valuable to find the types of employees that we bring into MasterControl.

So, if we bring them in and there’s a bad experience and there’s a poor culture, we’re just going to churn through and not provide value to our customers in the end. So, having a chief culture officer shows you know why culture is so important to us. It’s not just to be nice or have a cool place to work. It’s got a business reason.

QD: If you had to put it into one or two sentences, how would you define culture?

JB: That’s interesting, because I’ve read articles on that, and I’ve thought about it a lot myself. There’s the business that people do, the product they’re trying to produce, and the service they’re trying to render. And then how they do it is a lot of the culture...

...Also, I think culture has a lot to do with your leadership brand and how you promote leadership: What leadership principles you promote throughout your company, and the actual employee experience—what is happening in their minds, what do they like about the company, what draws them in, what makes it easier for them to do their work....

Obviously, no one’s going to be perfect. But if you can get it to where the individuals that are really delivering the value to the customer, they are really in line, they understand what they’re going to do, they understand that it’s meaningful work, they feel like they’re treated well, they’re oriented toward the company’s goals and delivering value, I think that’s where the magic happens.

QD: This morning I was talking with somebody, and they were discussing the issue of failure, and how failure is really a component of success. You know, fail forward fast.... How would you describe how you treat the issue of failure within your culture? There are some people that believe it actually needs to be rewarded to encourage people to take risks, because you can’t innovate without taking risks. How would you say that fits within your view?

Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say reward it. I would say that what we do is try to turn every failure into a success. We don’t treat a failure as the end, right?...

...Fixed-mindset individuals avoid doing difficult things because they want to make sure that they always succeed. And they don’t think they can get any better by challenging themselves.

In a growth mindset, you’re going to take on big problems, and you know that in the process you’re taking a risk because you might fail. But in that failure, that’s how you learn, and that’s how you eventually accomplish big things.

So, in a company that’s founded to build innovation to help life sciences professionals get their products to market faster, that growth mindset is absolutely important.

When you have that growth mindset, you’re going to have failure. One of the things we’ve done at MasterControl is we progressively got to the point where we can talk about failure a lot more.

Because when we were setting company goals and reporting on them, we just ended up getting a lot of positive spins on stuff. We weren’t digging in to see what’s wrong and what we can improve as much. We felt like we were avoiding or limiting conversations, and so we introduced the concept of revisiting objectives.

It’s just a different way of positioning. Obviously, you’re saying we’re not going to hit this right, yeah, but it’s the idea that when an objective is not accomplished or a goal is not accomplished, we’re going to figure out how we can. We’re not going to say, hey, we failed; we’re going to say, all right, we’re not getting to where we need to. What can we do now to push that forward to where that person can be successful, and we can be successful?

QD: So, you can have someone who is in a position where they know they are failing, but the end result is that they still have an opportunity for success, and that failure will not be seen as a failure. It’s just part of the milestones leading to that end result of success.

JB: Yeah, because if you punish failure, then you’re going to get sandbagging. No one’s going to try to do anything difficult....

QD: Or they’ll hide it....

JB: Yeah, and everything that we’re doing is difficult. The other thing is that we try to use failure as an opportunity to find out what’s going wrong. It’s really interesting because failures happen all the time in organizations that are really trying to stretch and do things great.

So when you’re not accomplishing what you thought, then that gives you an opportunity to correct the problems that were already there.

Quality Digest CEO Jeff Dewar talks with Jon Beckstrand, CEO of MasterControl, on the value of failure. To watch the entire video, click here.

QD: So would you be willing to give an example of one of your leadership failures, and then what you learned in the process on the road to success?

JB: Let me take a minute to think about it.... I was actually thinking about someone else’s failure that I was helping with—that’s an easier one, isn’t it? Without being too specific, I would say for me, one of the most difficult things is bringing in someone new, and as a leader, right?

It’s definitely nerve-racking because you’re going to bring somebody in, and you know that they’re going to affect the work lives of a bunch of people in the organization. What I’ve learned through instances in the past where I’ve brought someone in that doesn’t quite fit our culture or hasn’t succeeded to the degree that I had hoped, I need to give more honest feedback sooner and start having those really brave conversations even earlier in the process with somebody when I see them having an issue.

QD: Even though it’s uncomfortable to do it, or you might feel like you’re jumping the gun or micromanaging, it’s really the right time to do it.

JB: Right, and inevitably I don’t do it well, so [when] you’re giving someone feedback, it’s really hard to give it exactly pointed in a way that they can actually improve. But to raise the questions and have those hard conversations, and be willing to put yourself out there, that’s something that I learned.

Before, I think I was a little bit more tentative. I didn’t want to make someone feel bad. But all you’re doing there is just delaying, and you’re just going to make life miserable for everybody else. The individual also doesn’t have a chance to improve.

As a leader, it’s a little egotistical because you are in a position where you’re supposed to help them improve. So you have to say I must have something that could help, and I have a problem with that sometimes. [But] I’ve learned my perspective is valuable, and even if I might not have it exactly right, I’m the only one that can give that person the particular feedback they need to help the work that they do at MasterControl or in the rest of their career.


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For 40 years Quality Digest has been the go-to source for all things quality. Our newsletter, Quality Digest, shares expert commentary and relevant industry resources to assist our readers in their quest for continuous improvement. Our website includes every column and article from the newsletter since May 2009 as well as back issues of Quality Digest magazine to August 1995. We are committed to promoting a view wherein quality is not a niche, but an integral part of every phase of manufacturing and services.