Encouraging failure and taking risks at work

innovation innovation

[Image Credit]

Do you feel you're encouraged to fail at work? Seems like a strange question, but welcoming failure is one of the key planks to innovation.

Many companies are looking to be iterative, more innovative and more dynamic. Indeed, many of our own customers are held up as poster children for innovation and disruption.

At the core of innovation is taking risks. To make this possible, you need to be open to failure. Sure, you may subscribe to the "Fail fast and fail often" model, but you still need to create an environment where this is possible.

Our standard Culture Amp templates have a handful of questions that relate to these concepts. Specifically we ask questions along the lines of:

  • "We are encouraged to be innovative, even though some of our initiatives may not succeed."
  • "We act on promising new or innovative ideas."

These questions don't tell you how innovative your company is. They are simply a barometer on how open your culture is to risk-taking. It's an essential part of creating an environment that fosters and grows innovation. We often get asked how to act on these questions. There is no simple answer. Ultimately it will come down to your culture and the kind of company you want to be. However, we do see some themes that might be useful.

  • Celebrate failures as well as your as successes. Sure, you don't need to call it a failure, maybe it's a learning. Look back on what you've learnt as an organization over the last year - which were the most beneficial and why? Sometimes these are just as profound and influential as the big successes.
  • Give employees the space to experiment and to grow. Google had their 20% time. However, that's just one example (perhaps an overused one). You might get engineers to contribute to open source. You could have a blackout like Quirky.
  • Remove distractions. This is related to the above. Distractions kill creativity. Innovative organizations are ruthless with distractions that don't contribute to the core work. If you can clear a path, employees will get the space they need.
  • Push people (a little) out of their comfort zone. Get your employees involved in their professions, communities, academia. Not only will they get new ideas and ways of thinking, it will connect and motivate their own work. Employees that are growing are more likely to explore and innovate.
  • Mix it up. A lot of innovation isn't about a completely unique, original idea. More often it's a spin on an existing idea - or - combining two (seemingly) unrelated ideas to make something new. You may want employees to learn a new skill, or work in a different field. What can work equally well is using their skills in a new context. For example, initiatives such as "Code for a Cause" let engineers volunteer for a charity. Same skills, but a different context and different set of constraints.

Those are just a handful of ideas. How do you foster innovation?

About Culture Amp

We've brought together experts in technology, data science and organizational psychology to ensure you can get the clarity you need, when you need it. Measuring employee engagement, experience and 360° feedback is simple using Culture Amp.

Learn more