The Silicon Valley mantra, that failing is a good thing, has taken the corporate world by storm. Just loot at how we idolize people like Elon Musk, for his kaleidoscopic career of failures, pivots and reinventions. The failing mantra has taken on many variations; failures are really just lessons on the path to success, failing fast is economical in the long-run, only through failure can you discover greatness and great risk begets great failure or great reward. But unless a company has policies in place to support and celebrate failures, then these mantras become vacuous company values, living only in strategic documents; not in the fabric of the company, and not felt in the day-to-day of employees throughout. A company that embraces, celebrates and rewards failure doesn't happen accidentally; there needs to be systems, behaviors, and structures in place to incentivize, encourage and make room for flops. Here are four ideas you can implement immediately to make your company a better place to fail.
1. Actively Kill Ideas
Most organizations don't take time to actively kill ideas. Often, they confuse prioritizing initiatives with killing ideas, but this is a separate thing to laying ideas to rest. When you take items off your task list, you can focus on the ones that really matter. Focusing on a few things allows you to do them well, and is a critical success factor. Steve Jobs famously slashed Apple's pipeline from 150 products to just 4 when he returned to take the reigns in 1997 (one desktop and one portable device for both consumers and professionals). Jobs famously said, "Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do". And it's a skill that requires practice.
Try: Hosting a monthly 'Kill' meeting where you actively kill, not just prioritize, ideas that are not delivering. Each department should aim to have no more than 4 key initiatives in play at any one time.
2. Host Idea Funerals
Killing an idea or initiative presents a chance to learn from it, and steal its most potent properties to incorporate into other initiatives. Hosting an "Idea Funeral" may sound extreme, but it's a sticky initiative that sends a strong message to the company that failures are not just tolerated, but actively welcomed. At an Idea Funeral, a team should: share what parts of the idea they'd like to keep, identify what prevented the initiative from really delivering and finally brainstorm ways to incorporate the 'best of' the idea into other initiatives that are still in play. This is also an opportunity to acknowledge team members who not only brought the idea this far, but most importantly, had the audacity to kill it.
Try: Idea Funerals should feel more like a wake, and represent a chance for teams to bond and create a safe space for people to feel they can fail in. Bring music, snacks, and keep it light.
3.Create A "Failed Ideas Hall Of Fame"
This is an easy-to-implement idea that packs a big punch. In the same way many companies pay tribute to their most successful launches and achievements, this is your opportunity to create a similar one for product, marketing, sales and innovation failures. Similarly to Idea Funerals, this sends a very strong and public message to all employees that failing is OK and actually welcomed. Under each idea, there is an opportunity to capture shared learnings. For example, you can write an obituary for the idea that spells out what its strong points were, and how these now lives on in other initiatives. In killing one idea, it freed the team up to focus on a potential new blockbuster. This sentiment should be captured in the obituary.
Try: Creating a "Hall of Failure'" that showcases some monumental failures loudly and proudly. You can even intersperse other epic failures from history to reinforce the message. For example, Decca Records didn't sign the Beatles because guitar music was on its way out, the Leaning Tower of Pisa took 177 years to build and only ten to start tiling or Fox Studios gave George Lucas all Star Wars merchandising rights for just $20,000 in 1977.
4. Change KPIs to Reward Risk amd Failure
Most KPIs are tied exclusively to productivity, efficiency and boosting the bottom line. However, without incentivizing risk taking, and making allowances for the inevitable outcomes that comes with taking risks (failure), innovation quickly becomes all talk and no action. To truly make trying new things part of the culture, employees must be measured against it. A simple way of doing this is to hold employees accountable for trying a new approach to one of their tasks each quarter. Some of the initiatives they try differently might be close-in and relatively safe. However, at least one should feel intimidating and unknown.
Try: Adding a KPI that explicitly encourages employees to try new things; including an allowance for a grandiose failure and sharing the lessons they learnt with their team.