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How To Build A Culture That Welcomes Failure

Failure is often a word whispered quietly down business halls. It is the act that employees and leadership strive most often to avoid. Yet, many business leaders are striving to change the perception of failure by embedding it into their organizational culture.

Are you surprised? Probably, but consider what leaders of three national brands have to say about failure to their own teams:

“If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough,” said Quincey, who challenged his management teams to move beyond the fear of failure.”

Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey

“Our hit ratio is too high right now. We have to take more risks…to try more crazy things…we should have a higher cancel rate overall,” said Hastings, who celebrated Netflix’s tremendous subscriber success while also identifying the potential risks that come along with such success.”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

“If you’re going to take bold bets, they are going to be experiments. And if they are experiments, you don’t know ahead of time if they are going to work. Experiments are by their very nature prone to failure. But a few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work,” said Bezos, who explained to employees that growth and innovation are built on failure.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

How Do We Make Failure Work?

Why are some of the most well-known business leaders creating environments where employees feel comfortable failing? Because they recognize that failure is not a bug or a problem. Failure is a fundamental feature and component to success.

Think of failure in the most basic of terms – a child learning how to ride a bike. Every child falls, stumbles and skins their knees in the process of learning to balance on two wheels. The falls, stumbles, bruises and (worst case scenario) scars are a required part of the learning process. But after the failed attempts, comes success.

That mentality is the same mentality that leadership must apply to failure in an organization. Failure, by its very nature, is messy, but it is also the path toward innovation. The path to innovation is rarely perfect, but by changing our perspective toward failure, employees can begin to see their shortcomings as part of the development process that helps move the needle of creativity and innovation forward.

How Exactly Do You Create An Environment Where Failure Is Welcomed?

As a leader, you must first build a learning culture. If the perspective is about learning rather than failing, employees will be more comfortable and eager to take risks, to learn, and to try something new. A culture built on learning shifts the focus away from identifying fault or placing blame. Instead, it celebrates contributors who are quick to identify and correct issues because they know that identifying problems helps the business succeed faster. But don’t stop at learning; create a process to follow once failures are identified.

Spotlight the issue and put it on display whether its big or small. By addressing all failures, no matter their size or impact on the business, employees become comfortable exposing their shortcomings. Once you’ve put the failure on display, then collectively work as a team to analyze the problem and create solutions. The collective approach to addressing failures makes it less about an individual and more about the betterment of the organization. Here, in the midst of spotlighting, analyzing and collectively developing solutions, is where opportunities for growth are born.

By changing the mentality toward failure, you create a culture where employees experiment, push the envelope and challenge themselves to move beyond the status quo. Experimentation means failures are certain, but the key is to understand that failure leads to teachable moments, which leads to growth and the next stage of your businesses future. So, don’t brace for failure; embrace what it can do for your business and your employees.