The best leaders understand that failure is naturally a part of the business experience. Also, they know that when it happens, they can use those lessons learned to improve their decision-making processes moving forward.
At my company Amerisleep, our team has figured out how to turn failure into fortune. We train our employees to pilot promising projects and reflect when the results underperform expectations. This allows us gather valuable business intelligence that helps us tweak existing strategies and turn them into ROI-positive initiatives.
Below are four things leaders need to do to prepare their team for failure and turn those missteps into growth opportunities.
Express during hiring that failure is a part of the job description, and embrace risk as a core value.
The most effective way to prepare people for the inevitability of occasional failure is to start at the very beginning, and that means addressing the issue during your hiring process. Clear expectations are a crucial part of managing employee performance, and establishing early on that failure is common result of taking risks and organizational growth will help you frame company priorities in a way that promotes continual improvement.
The freedom to take risks is only possible when people understand that failure is an inherent consequence involved in doing so. Reactions to failure are generally driven by fear, and according to a study by the Harvard Business Review, businesspeople are more likely to depend on survival instead of growth when they don't understand their own fears, especially surrounding failure.
Teach employees to internalize failure as a cost of innovation.
Leaders are often reluctant to talk about failure with their employees, and it's easy to understand why. The word carries a negative connotation, and this is part of what needs to change if organizations are going to get better about embracing failure strategically.
One way to soften the negative undertones of failure is to tie it to a concept that is viewed more favorably: innovation. Everything in life and in business can be viewed through a cost-benefit framework, and periodic failure is one of the costs we must accept to reap the rewards of successful innovation.
Train them to use tools to help them learn from mistakes.
The real value of failure can only be extracted when you have the infrastructure in place to analyze what contributed to it and use the data to inform future decisions.
It's just as crucial for your team members to reflect on the events that led to failure and learn from them as it is for you as their leader to look holistically at the team's performance. Make sure they know what tools are available to aid them. Then, train them on methods and procedures for postmortem analysis.
Analyze what went right as well.
It's natural to focus on the shortcoming in the aftermath of a project failure, but don't lose sight of the fact that every initiative is a mix of things that went right and wrong.
Create a post-project analysis plan that includes a review of positive outcomes and determines how they can be better integrated with other methods in the future to create a more reliable formula for success.