Central to achieving excellence is the enthusiastic welcoming of failure.
Improvement in most organizations comes in spurts of rapid innovation, interspersed with long stagnant plateaus of business as usual. Seen differently, these organizations only institute changes towards improvement until the pain of not changing is greater than the effort to implement change. Failure is perceived negatively, ignored, and perhaps even shamed. These organizations have sporadic success, ambivalent morale, and a high percentage of customer churn.
Organizations that welcome and embrace failure enjoy year over year success, high employee engagement, and loyal customers. Celebrating failure is the key, because learning does not happen in its absence. Failure, in and of itself, does not drive success, rather with abundant learning opportunities, organizations are adaptively nimble, continuously innovative, and customer focused.
How can you turn the celebration of failure into a habit at your organization? After all, your employees are hardwired to minimize their failures for the sake of their own advancement and the fear of judgement. Changing culture takes time and it always begins with you.
One company started their weekly stand-up meetings with a round of “Woo-hoo! You failed!” In a quickfire moment, everyone shared a failure from their work or personal life and the whole team cheered for them. In the beginning, many shared simple failures such as, “I left my coffee on the roof of my car and lost my favorite travel mug this morning.” “Woo-hoo! You failed!” the team would cheer. Slowly but surely, these grew to more meaningful moments of sharing as in, “Our team spent 6 months on a project before we realized we failed to check in with a key stakeholder.” It sounds like an uncomfortable moment in any meeting, normally met with silence and keen eye contact avoidance. When replied to with cheers however, it became a moment of support, solidarity, and growth for everyone in the room. Team members left the meeting keeping a mental log as they went about their own projects. “Have I checked in with all stakeholders on this? Who’s in my network that can help smooth over my teammate’s error? How can I grow from my own failures?” This practice of celebrating failure increased the number of projects delivered on time and reduced the rate of undetected and compounding errors.
How have you failed recently? How will you celebrate failure?