Foster innovation by rewarding smart failures
In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, Doug Sundheim highlights the important role of failure in innovation. He interviewed a senior leader whose professional services firm nurtured the idea of risk taking yet was perplexed to find his employees weren’t taking risks. The problem wasn’t that the employees didn’t have innovative ideas; it was that they feared failure.
You may have noticed a stigma against failure in business. After all, three out of four startups falter according to The Wall Street Journal. But in an increasingly advancing business culture where innovation is necessary for survival, failure is becoming an accepted part of the journey. There’s even an entire conference based on the opportunities that stem from business failures.
So how do we reverse the stigma? Make failure OK. “[I]f you haven’t figured out how to take some of the sting out of failure, you won’t get innovation,” Sundheim says. He offers the following tips on how to achieve this:
- Define a smart failure. These are the stand-out projects that didn’t quite make the cut. Your team should know the appropriate parameters within which to fail, lest creativity and innovation seem too risky to even attempt. Think about what strategies, methods or procedures distinguish smart risk taking and make sure your employees realize the right and wrong way to fail.
- Reward smart failures along with successes. Giving recognition to smart failures as well as triumphs sends an influential message about what kind of behavior is encouraged in your organization. Rewarding smart failures will show your value of risk taking and hopefully improve the influx of innovative ideas.
- Make your approach to risk taking transparent. Don’t just tell your team about your successes — share your mistakes as well. What were the risks, how did you make decisions, and how did you succeed? As a leader, your employees need to have your support as they learn to take smart risks.
How does your organization treat failure? In what ways are innovation encouraged?