Thriving on Failure
Does your organization thrive on failure? Do you work in a culture of experimentation and risk-taking? This isn’t the most comfortable space for many executives in this volatile economy. Yet, organizations like Zappos are thriving on a culture of innovation.
Building an organization driven on innovation doesn’t require a formal R&D department. Your employees have the ideas, insights, and drive to implement innovation. Below are seven steps for building an innovative culture that thrives on failure.
- Set the strategy and communicate it effectively! A strategy for innovation must be illustrated through examples and language – your vision for the future. This takes time. To stand in a staff meeting and say “we are now going to become a team that experiments” will give the indication that this is the next flavor-of-the-month initiative. Innovation cannot be forced, and changing the culture won’t happen overnight. Employees will learn to innovate through consistent communication of successes, and just as importantly, the stories of failure.
- Brainstorm! Identify a specific time during the month for team members to brainstorm. This is a productive and important part of the work the team is doing. During the meetings, make it clear that no ideas are out of bounds. Sometimes those “crazy ideas” find focus with further discussion. In these brainstorming sessions, individuals don’t have to have all the details worked out. The idea is the purpose.
- Prepare a growth budget! Nothing speaks louder than allocating money to an innovation movement. Let it be known that some experiments will be supported financially.
- Allow teams to make decisions! Create teams comprised of varying levels and roles to determine what ideas move forward. This creates ownership in all directions. First, the individual must present a sound case for the experiment to the group. The group must then decide and stand firm in the decision to move it forward. The leader, after review, must indicate his/her commitment by approving the experiment and financial resources.
- Recognize the failures! Acceptance of failure is perhaps the number one driver of creating a culture of innovation. It helps builds trust! 75 percent of experiments conducted are going to fail. Learn from the set-backs and acknowledge the failures. What was learned? What will we do differently next time? Let’s try again!
- Document the findings! Business is sometimes cyclical. It’s likely that in three-to-five years, a similar innovation will be implemented. It is necessary that lessons learned from past failures be documented and easily retrievable to help with future initiatives. Documenting the approach, mistakes, and findings greatly impacts new and innovative ideas.
- Trust me! For the previous steps to work, all members of the team must venture with a sense of trust. As the leader, you can build the culture in many ways.
- Thank employees for presenting ideas!
- When ideas come up, even if they are terrible, respect them, and provide positive feedback. Don’t squash employees’ ideas or you may never hear from them again. Not all ideas are good, but all ideas might be great starting points!
- Own the initiative even if it fails. When projects fail, learn! Make it known that no one will be held accountable for the failure, but everyone will take ownership in learning from it.
Creating a culture where employees understand that idea exploration is important, failure is accepted, and risk-taking is the norm drives innovative teams. Savvy organizations that thrive on failure and continually learn from mistakes and take chances succeed in an ever-increasingly competitive market.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, had seen his fair share of “failures” before enjoying the success of Zappos. By learning from his mistakes, and building on his ideas, he has been able to grow Zappos into one of the most enviable companies in the world. Hsieh said, in an interview with Steve Rosenbaum of MediaBizBloggers, “Entrepreneurs view failures as getting one step closer to success.”
While not all business executives see themselves as “entrepreneurs” they are still in the business of growing their business, and innovation must be an ingredient. Innovation, after all, is not the property of entrepreneurs, and according to Hsieh, there are no points off for failing.
- Emily Redinbaugh