When organisations say they value failing, do they really mean it?
Many of my coaching clients have stated that failing is ok, yet most of the time failure and the act of trying is not recognised, talked about or readily admitted. In some instances there can even be reprisals.
So how can you create the psychologically safe environments, that allow you and others to truly learn and innovate from failing?
Failing – the real and imagined impact.
As humans that have genetics that drive us to live and work in social groups for safety and progress, how you are ‘seen’ by the group members matters greatly. Actual and perceived failures can influence you and others, to alter your value to them. Your value to an individual or group can change daily. It can increase, stay as is, or lower, based on how others assess your actions. Trying out something new has a ‘risk’ to it and we all have differing tolerance levels for risk.
The two sides to how you are ‘seen’.
It’s not all bad, whilst failing can have a negative impact, many will see the courage in your having a go and risking shortcomings. Especially if you have not been overly reckless in doing so. Several will see the mettle of how you use that failing to improve and keep going. The story of the failure and the learnings revealed can be a great inspiration for a multiple of reasons.
Failure, our manure for success!
When I ran a global leadership programme that explored being entrepreneurial, we shared many stories. The stories of efforts that had not been entirely successful generated slogans, one being ‘failure is our manure for future success’. A graphical description of the positive results from trying even when missing the mark is an outcome.
Positive mental attitude
Dealing with the result of your failed efforts can be linked to your mental resilience. Most of us are familiar with feelings such as; embarrassment, shame and guilt. Your resilience levels at any given time (because they change), will have a bearing on how you deal with those emotions.
In times of high mental strength you are likely to be motivate, persistent and driven to make adjustments and try again. Determination allows you to accept the discomfort of things not going your way, and steer you to seek improvements. A positive mental attitude! On other occasions, when resilience is lowered the resulting response can be to blame others, to withdraw, to not want to try again.
It’s not just those that try out new ideas that need this mindset, those that ‘judge’ them that have this mindset too are key to creating the environments that nurture creativity and innovation.
Failures are productive when you gain new and useful knowledge that you couldn’t have gained if the ‘experiment’ had not taken place. The successful, do not often get there with out failings.
Walt Disney, was let go from a newspaper for lacking imagination of all things! He had several failed businesses. All of which gave him knowledge and experience that led to him creating his legendary characters and theme parks.
A recent pod cast, It’s OK to Fail, but You Have to Do It Right – YouTube discussed failing and these pointers caught my attention.
What’s the difference between failure and a mistake?
Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business school describes the differences in terms of:
Failures coming from:
- smart experimentation,
- that has a clear goal,
- where the homework and research has been done,
- where risk has been properly assessed
Mistakes, on the other hand, happen when there is deviation from a known practice or set of rules.
A mistake occurs when these are not followed or given enough attention. Such as, leaving your computer unlocked, unattended and with confidential information easily available.
How to generate imperfection tolerance and thrive?
It is context driven. An example in the podcast was the airline industry. The tolerance for failure, rightly, is low. Failure happens in the simulator. Training takes place in safe settings. Failures are addressed, admitted and talked about openly. As the context changes, so can the failure tolerance levels.
In the military, talking about failures in a non-personal fashion with context and analytics at the centre, gets to the best understanding and is common practice. How a person responds to the feedback in these debriefs has more impact on how they are ‘seen’ than the failure or mistake itself.
Applying failure tolerance
Providing space to experiment requires ‘some’ formality, process and guidelines, relevant to the context and what is being tested. It is especially important to include a de-brief that captures the successes and necessary learnings for the future.
Feedback and feedback skills are key.
Firstly, the back and forth of feedback is easier for all parties if it is part of regular practice. Regular is not bi-annually. Regular is at least monthly with context and data. The environment and practice of feedback can create psychological safety.
There is much to consider with feedback skills. For both parties’ personal emotional management goes along way to being able to accept and work with feedback.
Skills for a giving feedback
- Clarity on why this feedback is needed and valid
- Data, context and details that can be checked if not observed in person
- What really matters and needs attention
- How the message is to be given – facts, data, style, method, acknowledging feelings
- Who gives the feedback – what is your relationship, how much trust is there, does trust and connection need work? Because of the situation is there someone better placed to provide feedback
- Readiness to listen, be challenged, to gain other insights and manage emotional responses from the receiver
Enquiring is free, its low risk too!