“The goal, then, is to uncouple fear and failure – to create an environment in which making mistakes doesn’t strike terror into your employees’ hearts.” Ed Catmull
Organizations that value growth and success encourage their employees to innovate, try new things and stretch the boundaries of the business. These organizations embrace failure because they realize without failure an organization cannot grow and reach new levels of success. They also know that if an organization is not growing then it is stagnating . . . and stagnating businesses fail.
My son and a few of his friends started a landscape and lawn care company this summer. They built a website, flyers, posters and brochures. They knocked on doors, distributed flyers and sold their services to as many people as they could. Once they landed enough customers, they went and rented an aerator and power rake and worked their tails off. At the end of the first day they had lost $15! Talk about a disappointing failure!
However, they did not fight amongst themselves, berate each other or close up the business because of this failure. Instead, they sat down and reviewed the work they had done, their estimates, work processes, and true cost of work and they made some adjustments. At the end of the next day of work, they had each made about $250! They uncoupled fear and failure and “failed their way to success” by leveraging their initial failure to make necessary adjustments to their business.
How do you uncouple fear and failure and create a culture that is open to innovation, embraces failure and continually expands the boundaries of success?
The five simple steps outlined below will help you create this culture in your organization:
- Establish and communicate boundaries that employees are free to innovate within. These could be financial boundaries, technical boundaries, artistic boundaries, etc. These boundaries must be well defined and must be communicated clearly and frequently.
- For areas outside the “free” boundaries, build a simple process to identify, measure and mitigate risk associated with a project, product or idea implementation.
- Establish an acceptable risk level. If projects, products, ideas or ventures fall outside this acceptable risk level, they should not be attempted without further risk mitigation. This is what Jim Collins calls “firing bullets before cannons” in his book Great By Choice. Essentially, you take a number of smaller risks in an attempt to mitigate the larger risk. Once the larger risk has been mitigated to an acceptable level then the initiative can be attempted.
- Ensure that all new projects, products, ideas or other ventures are put through this risk identification and mitigation process.
- Establish a review process and do not take undefined risks that could bankrupt or otherwise damage your business
- Build a process to learn from experiences; successes or failures.
- The military uses an AAR or After Action Review process. Some organizations call this a Lessons Learned process. CII has a well defined Lessons Learned process (RT230) that you can purchase by clicking here.
- Whatever you chose, implement it inside your organization and review all major successes and failures.
- What went well and what did not go well.
- What was learned and what can be changed to be more successful next time.
- Share what was learned with the whole organization so the same mistakes are never repeated
- Reward employees who follow the process. Do not “discipline” failures if they happened within the framework that was defined above. Rather, reward them because of the valuable lessons that were learned from them.
- Build a process to implement the learnings into your organization. Do not waste the learning opportunity that a good failure provides!
Start uncoupling fear and failure in your organization so that failures are used as a learning mechanism to grow your business and make it stronger. Fail your way to success!
“Failure allows the individual to reach ever greater heights of success.” Ancient Hebrew saying
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