Creating a Culture that Embraces Failure Isn’t Enough

Project details

  • Date

     February 12, 2019

Creating a Culture that Embraces Failure Isn’t Enough.

Recently, I was at a breakfast meeting with a dear colleague and close friend. Both are highly successful in their respective industries, so conversations are nearly always entertaining. As one can expect, the usual witty banter ensued by solving the world’s issues took up the majority of the morning. After all, work-related discussions are not all there is to life.

Once we collectively solved the chaos in Venezuela and probed the topic of artificial intelligence in the workplace, the gig economy, and the dissemination of entrepreneurship outside of Silicon Valley, our conversation abruptly shifted towards the importance of failure in the workplace. After opinions were expressed and poorly sourced information cited (don’t worry, if either of these individuals are reading this they’re likely laughing) each agreed that failure in a workplace is essential to organizational longevity.

Being open to and accepting of failure within the workplace is not a monumentally new principle. In fact, a majority of the leaders and organizations we engage with, some more than others, have a defined capacity or threshold for employee failure. This progression is excellent to see, and I hope it only continues. However, there is a crucial attribute, or cause and effect relationship, within the equation of failure that many leaders either overlook or don’t have the time for, and it costs companies a tremendous amount of time and money while having a negative impact on the overall morale.

Reflection – What did We Learn?

Each failure is an opportunity to learn. In fact, there are many published Journals in academia and within business literature on the learning opportunity presented by even the smallest of failures. But precisely how does one learn from failure? There are many methodologies for how individuals and teams can glean learnings from failures, but we have found one to be the most effective.

With nearly all of our clients, we teach them a simple process called the PDCA cycles log that encapsulates the successes, failures, and ultimately learnings from actions taken toward a goal or as we typically say target condition (for a simplified excel version you can use yourself, see the end of this article).

In this log, as seen above, the owner (can be an individual or team) is methodically taken through what is more or less the scientific method.

  1. A hypothesis is formed, and a plan or step is identified
  2. The hypothesis is tested by conducting an experiment or taking the identified step
  3. A recordable reflection is drawn from the learning gleaned by the experiment
  4. You circle back around and plan your next step based on the learnings acquired from taking the last step.

By doing each step in the PDCA cycle process, people are forced to take the necessary time to reflect on the actions taken because it is part of a defined process. At first, taking time to reflect may seem or feel like a waste of time and resources. However, as the learnings stack up and the routine is established, our clients find immense value in the process. Not only does it force them and/or their team members to take time to analyze what happened and what learnings were captured, but it also creates a dialogue and database for how things were achieved, and the knowledge gained throughout the entire process.

At first glance, this form may seem simple, but it has a lot of depth beyond what is discussed in this article. Furthermore, this process is not a one size fits all, and it does take dedicated practice to familiarize oneself. With that said, we have successfully applied it throughout organizational hierarchies from office assistants all the way to the C-suite in many different industries and functions; we encourage you to give it a try. In the future, we will be releasing a piece specifically designed to go into greater detail of the PDCA process in practice, how it can be applied vertically and horizontally within the organization, and the entire gamut of elements within the process.