How to infuse your people with the courage to fail

By Cam Upshall, Director & Co-Founder
on August 8, 2019

How to infuse your people with the courage to fail

By Cam Upshall, Director & Co-Founder
on August 8, 2019
C'mon, how do you really handle a failed experiment?
As a business leader, I totally get that the way YOU approach failure sets the tone for how your organisation deals with it.

Although the name of the game in this almighty age of disruption is experimentation, it doesn't always work out, right? Trust me I've made plenty of my own mistakes. Unintended consequences can sometimes be bloody catastrophic! Look no further than Westfarmer's attempt to enter Britain's home improvement sector. Clearly a failure! Cost the group $1.7bn. Geez.

So getting it wrong in a business context is undoubtedly a scary prospect. BUT – you've got to push back against the status quo because, quite frankly, staying the same is NEVER a good idea. So then how do you as a leader embolden your people to try new things?
Failure is good - LEARN!
Ok once I'd gotten over a few failures (!) I took a long, hard look at myself. I realised that I could go one way or the other. I realised I needed to reframe failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Forget the stigma around failing, although it is a bit of an ouch to the ego (more on that later!). You've just got to keep your chin up, get on and do things differently – DO NOT let failure get the better of you or hold you back. Otherwise you're always going to be living in your own shadows!

IOOF CEO Renato Mota, a guest on our recent podcast episode, shared his own insights on this: "Generally speaking, failure has been given a bad name and I think failure is a tremendous tool to learn through."

"You learn what not to do and what you can do more of, and it creates a more iterative environment. Now, implied in that is you will try some things that just won't work," Renato said.
"Generally speaking, failure has been given a bad name and I think failure is a tremendous tool to learn through, " Renata Mota, CEO, IOOF
Build an environment of trust
Of course, even if you are explicit about failure being part of the learning process, people may still question whether it will genuinely be seen as a learning experience. But then that's up to you to create a safe environment, right?

According to Renato, trust in organisational culture is hard to build and easily damaged. "Sometimes it's those little behaviours, words or conversations that will actually destroy what you're trying to build," he said. TOTALLY.

As a leader, you can absolutely develop trust by being open about failures. 'Fess up about your mistakes! For example, when a change isn't working or a project is shut down, be transparent about what went wrong - share the metrics and the lessons. We do retros all the time - it's part of our business model. I've found that talking about your own failures encourages people to do the same.
Clarify your purpose and where to fail
While it may seem at odds with building a culture of experimentation, setting some boundaries around where you're prepared to fail (and where you can't fail) is crucial for your business, customers and staff. Few know the importance of this better than Renato (I particularly like his point here):

"It's fine to talk about failure, but it's got to be managed failure," he explained.

"We're responsible for billions of dollars worth of people's life savings. We can't just run around and say well it's okay to fail," Renato continued.
Clearly, you can't just try and fail at whatever you want without damaging your business.
Let's follow this thread a bit further. Much of failure relates to clarity of purpose. As Renato said to me, "There is an infinite number of ways you can fail, so you could fail forever."

But clearly, you can't just try and fail at whatever you want without damaging your business.

Ok - so if you want to embark on a transformative journey of learning from your mistakes, approach experiments deliberately. Like Renato suggests, you need to ask yourself - do they bring you closer to your purpose? How will these experiments deliver better outcomes?

When it comes down to it, having really clear context around what you're trying to do and what success looks like that can really give your people more confidence to try new things, because now they understand the desired outcomes.
Removing permanency of change
Another strategy to encourage experimentation is to run pilots or give permission for changes to be temporary - meaning if they're not working well enough, it's totally okay to go back to the way things were. Mindset shift: It's not time wasted, it's time well spent learning what works the best.

Renato adopts this approach at IOOF, "You create a security blanket for staff by removing the permanency of change. It actually allows people to be a little bit more open-minded. They can breathe a little bit easier as opposed to thinking we're letting go of everything."

Remove the permanency of change! For me that is key. So if you can do that, take a really purposeful and consistent approach to creating the right environment, then you're going to elevate your culture. This is what high performance is all about! You're incubating a thriving environment, where people are readily challenging and change things. That's exactly what you want.

Ok if this article has made you stop and think, ah-ha! Then Be Bold. I want you to jump on the Trampoline, and by that I mean inject some really cool technology into your business. High-Performance Leadership app is a totally different way to teach your people the art of incredible leadership. It's like having a personal mentor in your pocket. So, if you're serious about becoming the best you can be and building high performing teams, try it out now!

If you're serious about Doing Things Differently, drop me a line or leave a comment below!

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