Failure is hard, it’s messy, it can be really embarrassing, and sometimes it just plain sucks. But what if you were graded on your failures? What if it was part of your job to fail? What if, at your next evaluation, instead of praising your successes your raise was based on how well you failed? What would that look like?
Too often, failure is given a negative connotation. But what does it really mean when you fail? It means you took a risk, and that you were willing to try something outside your comfort zone. Taking a risk lets others know that “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” and “it’s never been done before” is no longer an acceptable answer for you, instead those phrases are viewed as challenges.
Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”.
It is time that as an industry we accepted failing as an important form of success. It is vital that teams are challenged with difficult tasks and held accountable for their actions. The light bulb wasn’t perfected until the rumored 10,000th try, Newton failed math, and Lincoln was defeated for his Senate seat only to be elected President two years later. So why are we holding ourselves, our teams, or our employees to a higher standard? To fail means that you are an active participant in future successes. Even if you fail, you have taken a stand and were willing to try something new, even if it doesn’t work out the first time. The key is to discover what did not work and try not to repeat your mistake.
During annual evaluations, would you rather see an employee who excelled by just doing the basics of their job or one that thought outside the box and tried something new? As managers it is our role to encourage our teams to take risks and try new ideas in safe and reasonable manner. Should we give them free reign every time they come to you with an idea? No, of course not! But coaching people to be successful after failing is a valuable skill.
The obvious opposite of failing is succeeding. You need to provide the appropriate environment for your employees to grow and try new and innovative ideas. When given a set of safety parameters, whether it is a limited budget, time or other resources, you are allowing opportunities for success. Employees are more likely to set higher goals, reach farther, and expect more of themselves when they are in control of the process. When an employee has control of the process they are less likely to hide failing results, alter goals in order to appear successful, and are more willing to admit to failing several times in order to create a better process.
It is well into Strategic Planning Season and new goals and objectives are being set for the next 12-60 months. Why not add in the ability to fail as a metric for judging success? Make the update sessions more about the experience of completion, and celebrate the small failings along the way.