Let’s face it—no one likes to admit they’ve failed. We feed off our own success in both our professional and personal lives. In business, people are rewarded for success. They may get a raise, promotion or extra paid time off. Failure is often punished in the form of demotions, suspensions and reassignments. While we should recognize when people do well, we often learn more from our failures than our success, and the negative consequences of failure are creating a culture where we don’t learn from it.
Research has shown businesses that are more accepting of mistakes have better employee performance and motivation. The challenge is to convince managers and leaders they are thinking about failure the wrong way. In fact, leaders need to learn how to teach their employees how to fail intelligently.
True moments of failure (as opposed to something illegal or malicious like theft or abused) should be embraced as teachable moments for everyone involved. You can build the culture of growing from failure from the ground up by allowing learners to fail in your employee training, then helping them understand how it can be turned into a success. Because innovation comes with a high level of risk, when employees are punished for any failure they are less likely to take creative risks in the future.
Principle 5 of the Discovery Learning Model emphasizes that learning doesn’t only occur when we find the right answers, it also occurs through failure. When failure happens, feedback is critical to initiate and complete the learning process. Here are some tips to help drive success from failure.
- Provide feedback immediately. The adult brain learns best by being caught in the act, so to speak. When an employee makes a mistake, or fails, provide feedback as soon as you can.
- Be positive. Give at least as much positive feedback as you do negative.
- Ask for perspective. When an employee makes a mistake, start the conversation by asking for their perspective on the situation. Hearing their reasoning will help you understand where they went wrong, or it could even spark a new idea.
- Offer suggestions or solutions. What can the employee learn from the situation? What would you have done differently had you been in his or her place?
- Redemption time. Give the employee a chance to redeem themselves.
- Learn from your employee’s mistakes. What did you learn from the mistake? Did you want your employee to fail? What would you do differently?
Mistakes and failure encourage creativity. When people fail, they will work extra hard to avoid failure again in the future, and this process can lead to new ideas and innovations. The reason many companies are successful today is because they built a company culture that encouraged employees to take risks and grow from mistakes.
“Don’t let learners fail” is one of the seven corporate training myths. See the other six.