Remember your biggest mistake? How did your boss and your company respond? It is likely that their reaction shaped your tolerance for taking risks and coming up with radical big ideas. Innovative companies are graceful in how they handle failure, and that encourages further thoughtful risk-taking and innovation. You get to shape that by your reaction when things don't go just as you expected.

Here are five tips for failing gracefully when things don't go as planned:

  1. Don't Alienate Those on the Failed Team

With failure comes a stigma, so your leaders need to know how to amplify or absorb the right points when discussing a failed project and make it about the project, not individuals on the team. Debrief personally with each team member so they can personally share their insights and what they would do differently; this way you can give them the appropriate reassurance or feedback.

  1. Eliminate and Replicate the Right Areas

Complete a comprehensive review with everyone on the team to analyze what worked and what didn't so you can catapult your success next time. Share the results and what action you will take, don't keep them a secret.

  1. Reward the Right Behaviors and Actions

Too often bonuses are tied to ultimate success, which may hamper risk taking by making teams more cautious about making bold decisions. Reward and recognize the behavior you want, and use it as examples for the rest of your business.

  1. Admit Your Failures Fast

Remember Blackberry's tablet attempt? It failed, but they took too long to acknowledge that theirs was not successful. Decisions took too long and the competition raced ahead. Learn from their mistakes. Quickly communicate what has failed and how you plan to get back on track. Make sure your team hears from you and doesn't fill the silent void with assumptions and guesses.

  1. Share Your Risk Tolerance

My first ski adventure was in Italy fifteen years ago. After ten minutes on the mountain I was being stretchered off on the way to the hospital to receive seven stitches in my head. For many, that may have ended their ski career, but I took it as a brutal lesson that I needed to lean forwards not backwards and was back on the slopes the next day paying attention in ski school. After failure, it may be natural to be more cautious about taking risks. Talk to your team about your tolerance for risk and how bold or thoughtful you want them to be in approaching their next project.

Failure often triggers a natural reaction to retreat and go silent, but that is precisely when you need to be talking more to your teams. Your communication efforts and reassurance will give them the confidence and freedom to take more risks in the future, which will ultimately create more innovative ideas.

Published on: Mar 31, 2015
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