This may sound a little harsh, but once you understand the meaning behind this statement, I believe that you will see that I’m suggesting a way to help, not hurt, those who work for you.
Within certain bounds, giving the members of your team the opportunity to fail provides them with a safety net over which they can feel comfortable taking calculated professional risks and, in turn, help advance the organization and simultaneously grow professionally.
By allowing members of your team to fail, I don’t mean losing a major client, hurting their professional reputation, or costing the company a large sum of money that could cost them their employment. It does, however, allow them to:
- Define new techniques that improve existing department processes
- Design new product concepts
- Make a client presentation with you sitting in the back of the room helping them succeed if needed
- Try to develop a new skill that’s good for the company and their career
- Sit for a certification exam that they only have a 50% chance of passing
- Experiment with new technologies that could create company value if they are successful
In essence, you are creating an environment that facilitates experimentation, innovation, teamwork, and the chance to have a real business impact. By not giving your team this opportunity to fail, you are in essence telling them not to try anything new unless they are 100% sure that it will be 100% successful the first time and if not successful, their promotion, future pay raise, or even their job would be at risk. You have, in essence, destroyed your department’s ability to do new things, implement new technologies and improve existing processes. This, in turn, will cause your department and its employees to stagnate and fall behind professionally.
Assuming you agree with my thoughts this far, the next logical question is how to implement this concept in a way that allows you to grow your people and enhance your group’s productivity, while not putting your company at risk. To this end, consider the following:
- Be sure that team members know where their authority is in regard to what decisions they can make unilaterally and when they must ask permission to proceed
- Encourage your team to be innovative and look for yet unseen opportunities
- When appropriate, be willing to provide your staff with the time and resources needed to implement their idea
- Coach them on how to overcome unforeseen obstacles
- When they succeed, give them credit and internal visibility
- If they fail, thank them for trying, help them learn from their mistakes, and encourage them to continue thinking of ways to enhance the department’s value to the company
The overarching strategy here to create a culture where people understand that innovative thinking and action is in everyone’s job description and that the effort of innovation is not only encouraged, but is expected, respected, and rewarded.
Know that as a manager, moving toward this type of culture brings risk, discomfort, and time consuming.
Regarding risk, the failure of a staff member’s project, by definition, is a failure for you because the team/department is your responsibility. Regarding discomfort, you must be willing to trust your staff’s intuition and ability to deliver. Lastly, regarding your time, simply telling your staff to continue doing things the same way takes much less time than:
- Listening to your team’s new ideas
- Deciding which ideas have merit and should move forward
- Helping the idea originator move toward his/her goal
- . . . and then evaluating project results.
Until next time, lead well, always communicate, and think business first and technology second.