Failure is a stepping stone towards success: In today’s fast-paced world full of innovation, this statement holds great value. However, only if you are willing to take the first step in the form of calculated risk on a great idea, can you build a success story.
Just think about it – potato chips, post-it notes, penicillin, pacemakers – all these things were discovered from making mistakes. In each case, the inventor was attempting to create something completely different and thought that they had failed with the final product, only to stumble upon a unique creation.
Organisations must create a workplace culture that encourages learning from failures. However, how many are ready to risk failure to succeed? Can organisations safeguard their interests and create an environment where it is safe for employees to try new ideas and fail?
It’s Down to the Leaders and Employees to Create a Culture of Acceptance for Failure
When the leaders of the company are open to learning from mistakes, the employees are sure to follow the same process. The best companies are those that encourage failure and out of the box thinking, and enable employees to make mistakes and try different approaches.
In the same way, employees should also be willing to try and open to brainstorming while respecting each other’s thoughts or ideas. It’s important to continuously try out new ideas, figure out which ones don’t work and drive innovative results.
In a nutshell, leaders should strive to provide a psychologically safe environment that makes it easier for employees to voice their ideas. Constructive feedback should be encouraged and rejection considered an opportunity for further improvement.
Best Practices to Create and Maintain Safe Failure Culture
Here’s how an organisation can go from a place where mistakes are penalized to an environment where failure is encouraged. A few changes in your organization’s cultural ecosystem can create a safe space where employees are empowered to try:
1. Data-Driven Approach
Create a safe failure system that is not just based on random hunches or ‘guess what I am thinking’ methodologies. Rather, create a system where new ideas are conceptualised and documented with necessary data or research. This way, it will be easier for individuals and teams to refer to the data, ultimately reducing the fear of venturing into unknown territory.
The system can be used as a forum where ideas are shared and see what each team is working on. Employees can learn from each other’s failures and successes in this manner.
2. Create Simulations or Pilot
Another factor that inhibits free thinking is when employees feel that the stakes are high and so are unwilling to speak up or make suggestions at all. In such cases, using simulations to help them practice decision-making skills in a safe space can help a great deal. Simulations, pilot programs, and what-if scenarios can be used to try out new sales strategies or business expansion plans before actually implementing them.
Even if some of the ideas fail, they can be addressed the right way and there is no fear among employees to implement their suggestions because the stakes are low. This instils confidence and makes the move from concept to delivery much easier.
3. Create an Opportunity to Stray Out of Status-Quo
Leaders and employees must both be willing to work outside their comfort zone to create compelling ideas and strategies that drive innovation. Replace the apprehensive what-if questions with questions that challenge the status quo.
Leaders should involve their teams to find a better solution to existing problems. During this process, acknowledge diverse ideas and opinions to get buy-in from all the key stakeholders.
Moreover, a mutually acceptable decision is not just effective but also has room for recovery and revisions along the way. This will foster a culture of understanding that failure may, in fact, be the fastest way to come up with a solution.
4. Recognise Experiments and Failure
Instead of just appreciating team members for wins, it is equally important to recognize failures and showcase them in a positive light. Cherish the moments where people tried, explored and failed, highlighting the lessons learned in the process so that it echoes throughout the organisation.
There are many companies like Google, Intuit, and Tata who give away an award or prize for the ‘Best Failed Idea’ to keep the inspiration going and spark new ideas from the learnings of the previous failure.
5. Find the Purpose
If employees fail to find meaning in their work, there is no motivation for them to continue working towards the collective goal. Instead of simply following the daily routine, encourage employees to understand the difference they make in the lives of colleagues and customers.
This will add a greater sense of purpose and importance to their role and set off a chain reaction of improved performance. With this renewed energy, employees will dive into the situation and will be more motivated to try new things.
6. Encourage ‘Fast Failure’
Enable employees to fail faster. Show them how the insights from failed attempts will help them to change course and move onto a better solution. This way, you will use fewer resources. For instance, instead of writing a 50-page manual, ask the employee to provide an outline and ask for opinions, if it’s going on the right track.
Before embarking on a major project, eliciting ideas in a skeletal form is a great way to involve employees and enhance learning, whilst sparking innovative ideas.
7. Accept and Reflect Upon Failure
After a failure, reflect upon what was learned, express gratitude for its beneficial aspects and don’t play the blame game. There should be no resentment, anger or fear in the face of a disappointment.
Instead, mindful reflection should be encouraged to enable employees to discover their learnings and express their thoughts to understand what could be done better the next time.
Promote Innovation by Building Tolerance to Failure
Whether you are creating the next post-it note or trying to boost sales, your workforce possesses a wealth of untapped ideas and knowledge. Unfortunately, if you don’t let them exercise their creativity, your employees will not stretch their minds. They will avoid making mistakes and your organisation will be unable to reap the benefits of innovation.
If employees are afraid to fail, they tend to become rigid and refuse to share anything but typical low-risk ideas that don’t go beyond the normal – which is toxic for creativity.
Therefore, embrace the culture of failure and take a step towards success. This will boost the morale of your employees and take you towards a positive growth trajectory.