A CULTURE WHERE FAILURE ISN’T FATAL
Many people fear failure more than snakes, death, or public speaking. Wanting to get things right makes you good at what you do. You like to look before you leap, take time to think things through, and get it right the first time. However, when you work in a culture where you fear losing your job for a mistake (or getting severely reprimanded like having your smart phone confiscated), your analytical tendencies can be debilitating.
Leaders, pay attention! If you create a culture where failure is fatal, you’re likely not to get the best work from your tech team. Plus, they leave quickly.
Let’s be frank and humble. No one reading this article believes he/she has created a bad culture. NO ONE! But some of you have. So let me practice what I’m preaching. Assume you have failed, and assume your failure isn’t fatal. You’re still a good person. You’re still accomplishing goals. You’re a respectable leader/manager. AND you can be even better. Let me help you. (Does the safety of those statements encourage you to read on?)
First, what does a failure-is-fatal culture look like? Here are some of the top behaviors to look for: Team members…
- blame others (throw them right under the bus)
- hide their mistake
- make excuses
- fail to ask questions or raise concerns
- disengage (some disappear emotionally if not physically)
What do you do if you have these elements within your team? A starting point is to admit you’ve contributed to the negative culture. Isn’t that always the first step? “Hi, my name is Doug. I’m taking ownership.”
Imagine a different culture where mistakes (within reason) are acceptable and even encouraged. If you’re not failing from time to time, you’re not trying hard enough. Imagine a culture where people stick their necks out, take risks, and are rewarded for falling short. Imagine conversations about failure that are growth-oriented rather than punitive? How about an atmosphere where everyone admits screwing up, and yet you’re still accepted and honored?
In order to get to that preferred future, let me suggest some basic coaching questions to ask when you or others fail.
1. What did you learn from this?
2. What would you do differently next time?
Listen carefully for some very valuable take-aways during this conversation.
But one more thing remains essential if you’re going to create a culture where failure isn’t fatal. Don’t bring it up again, and don’t hold it over the person’s head. Let it go. And remove your foot from your own throat if you have made the mistake.
I value people who genuinely get over hurts and harms when I’ve done something wrong. One person said, “Now as far as I’m concerned, we never have to bring this up again.” Another person said something equally potent. As I apologized over and over for a mistake I made, the person finally looked at me and said, “I’m over that. Are you?” That was a person who created a culture where failure wasn’t fatal. I felt safe and willing to keep trying.
Good companies allow mistakes. Great leaders use mistakes as learning opportunities including building relationships of trust. Be gracious as you would want others to be gracious to you.