Dare you share failures?

Learning is crucial for a positive culture, but it hardly ever happens without mistakes, hickups, or failures. Learning fast, and learning from others’ failures as well, helps your organization become more agile and better.

In conventional cultures, however, it’s not common to admit failures even though failure is critical to success. In nuclear plant accidents, the NASA Challenger disaster and the British Petroleum gulf spill, people hid their mistakes or did not pass on information.

That’s why in aviation and emergency health care, Crew Resource Management was introduced to improve interpersonal communication and to prevent human errors.

In other organizations, a Failure Wall can be helpful – though it is not enough. If you haven’t established safety and connection, if you are not authentic and trusted as a leader, then a Failure Wall is just another ritual where people pretend.
The idea of a Failure Wall, initiated by Jeff Stibel, is simple: Describe a time when you failed, write what you learned and sign your name. A Failure Wall helps to talk about failure, to share failures and learn from them together without people being stigmatized.

Failing Fast Forward

“Failing fast forward” is part of the Scrum software development method and a principle of Liberating Structures. It is also part of Spotify’s culture (the streaming audio store). Founder Daniel Ek advices his employees to “fail faster than anyone else”.

Jeff Stibel, the CEO of Dun & Bradstreet, wanted to encourage his employees to feel comfortable with taking risk. He painted a wall white in the recreation room and put some famous “failure” quotes on it, including one of his own mistakes. He attached a marker to the wall and after a week, a junior employee shared one of his.

Says Stibel: “Failure is far more instructive than success. When you succeed, you don’t always know exactly what you did right [..]. When you fail, by contrast, you [..] often know exactly where you went wrong. Often it’s so painfully obvious in retrospect that you kick yourself, and you can’t help but replay it over and over in your head. It is that recursive loop that allows us to learn.”

Failure is far more instructive than success. Why? Click To Tweet

Because people are rewarded for achieving goals at work, hiding mistakes seems the rational thing to do. Most adults avoid failure as it looks bad: your Ego will want to protect you from losing face or your job.

Because of this reason, normalizing failures is most effectively embodied by leaders. Share your own mistakes and doubts and encourage others to do the same. Be human.

Stibel: “At our company, employees have fessed up to mistakes that cost the company millions of dollars, and no one has gotten in trouble.”
The mistakes on the Failure Wall have been learned from and won’t be made again. It’s the mistakes that are hidden that jeopardize organizations.

This is book post #78 – Part “WE”

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If you’re confused, check the Positive Power overview and read the Positive Agent Manifesto.

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© Copyright Marcella Bremer, 2018. All rights reserved.

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