Making Room for Failure
How often are innovation and risk taking discussed in your organization? Among the executives I’m working with, they both seem to be to be hot topics. In leadership team meetings, they’re talking about how to get people to take more risks. They want new ideas that will change their product mix or increase market share. But when you look at how their companies approach risk you find it’s focused on mitigating it. Or when you look at how products are developed the process favors a small tweak or a modest change to a ‘proven winner.’ The actions aren’t supporting the words.
If you want more innovation and risk taking in your organization, you have to expect, allow and celebrate failure. Without failure, breakthroughs don’t happen. If you’re going to take a risk, sometimes it’s not going to work. It will fail. And if you want someone to take a risk again, you have to take that failure and hold it up to the light. Not to highlight what not to do but rather to highlight what to do. Jason Seiken, former SVP and General Manager for digital at NPR wanted to create a more innovative culture. So, he made failure part of everyone’s goals and performance. He created the failure metric and integrated into daily conversation and formal performance reviews. As a member of the digital team, if you did NOT fail during the year, you received a lower performance rating. In his recent Harvard Business Review blog, Seiken notes “In the end, the failure metric was something of a verbal stunt. Here’s what staffers said a few years later: If I had simply announced that they had permission to fail, they would have considered it corporate blather. By making failure a requirement, I had shocked them into taking the message seriously.”
What would shock your organization into action?
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