See failing at work as the beginning, not the end
Thomas Edison said he didn’t fail; he just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. The same principle is true for any successful venture, including your business. The measure of success isn’t failure; it’s persistence in the face of failure.
If the light bulb just went on for you, then you get the point. Here’s how your company and employees can learn from failing at work.
Reframe your failure to boost your business
Reframing failure can help boost your employer brand. It’s about rewarding calculated risks and creating an inherently more exciting workplace culture. That type of culture will also help you attract quality people — the ones who know how to bounce back from failure.
To be clear, we’re not talking about sloppy, error-ridden work product or services. We’re talking about attempting something worthy, having that effort fail, analyzing what happened, then using what was learned to improve the business.
“The whole story of failure and the process of analyzing failure and making improvements is a hard statement for a company to make,” says Ralph Heath, marketing consultant and author of Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes, and Thinking Big.
Failing at work, of course, is not the goal. Instead, it can become a means to build your employer brand.
Include risk-taking in company values and internal branding materials
ConsumerAffairs, which helps companies manage their brand reputation, has integrated a risk-taking message into their employee materials. The materials encourage teams to act boldly. During the hiring process, the company screens candidates for those same characteristics using a culture index survey, says marketing manager Danica Jones.
Talk about risk-taking and failure during candidate interviews
The interview process presents another opportunity to see if potential employees have experience in learning from failing at work. Serial entrepreneur Fred Schebesta, CEO and co-founder of FinTech startup Finder.com, purposely brings up the topic of failure when interviewing job candidates.
“It’s part of our company values of ‘Go Live,’ where we encourage experimenting, succeeding or failing fast, learning, tweaking, pro-activity and seeing what works,” says Bloem. “I often remind my crew that they haven’t made enough mistakes lately, which means they aren’t pushing themselves to think and do outside the square.”
Have leaders talk about their own failures
Incorporating the acceptance of failure as an opportunity to learn in day-to-day operations begins with leadership. “It takes courage for leaders to model that behavior,” says Paul J. H. Schoemaker, a strategic management consultant and author of Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure.
As a leader, Schoemaker suggests scheduling a regular meeting in which employees share a mistake or failure — and kick things off by being the first speaker. That type of sharing can help pinpoint people’s mental models about how the organization should operate and their ideals of good and bad decision-making.
Find a high-profile way to reward failure
A great example of this (described in the book, Brilliant Mistakes) is the CEO who created the Golden Egg Award, complete with a silly, gold spray-painted trophy.
Employees were hesitant to compete for the award at first, but eventually they saw it as a reward for courage, trust and helping the team. The winners would leave the trophies on their desks, where they became conversation pieces for owners who proudly related the tales behind the awards.
It may take some time for employees to be comfortable sharing their failures at work, but an extrinsic reward can remind them to “make hay when things go haywire,” Schoemaker says.
Make it clear that managers will still manage bad performance
Throughout the process of learning from failing at work, the biggest challenge may be striking an appropriate balance between open ownership of mistakes and endorsement of reckless abandon, says Joe Smallacombe, financial controller at earthkind®, which makes all-natural pest repellent products. “A line needs to be established where employees are held accountable when/if the same mistakes recur,” he says.
Encourage employees to think like scientists and hypothesize
The most important thing in cultivating a culture of calculated risks is the “calculated” aspect, says Andrew Witkin, CEO of StickerYou, Inc., a Toronto company that makes custom stickers and other “sticky” products. “When a risk is being taken it has to be measured from the very beginning with estimates for what is considered a success.”
“We encourage calculated risks by allowing our employees to experiment,” he says. “For example, for a new campaign we may start with small budgets, so our lessons learned don’t have an impact on our overall budget or revenues.”
Accepting failure as a tool can be a catalyst for uncovering fresh perspective and unique problem-solving strategies in your organization. To reap the benefits, measure your outcomes of calculated risk-taking and facilitate open discussions of the trial-and-error process with team members.
Failure can lead to innovation –if you have the right team in place
As Edison learned, overcoming failure leads to innovation. You, too, can create a company culture that embraces and learns from failing at work. It starts with finding the right people. With expert recruiting insights and the latest hiring trends, Monster Hiring Solutions can help you find employees who can turn failure into success.