Get Employees to Smile in the Face of Failure

Pursue Growth and Learning

That is the fifth mandate in Zappos oft-referenced company core values.

While I won’t go over the finer points, what it ultimately means is that you create an environment where it’s comfortable for employees to enhance their skills and get that insatiable hunger to learn and conquer any obstacles in the way.

And some of that hunger comes through not being afraid to fail (another highlight scribbled inside  that company manifesto).

Unfortunately, one of the easiest scapegoats for not being creative at work is the idea of failure. We get so wrapped up in thinking how others might view our new idea, and that if it fails, we’ll be thrown under the bus for sure. But the truth is, many innovations at work come from failed attempts. A LOT.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a quick take on business leaders and artists who stumbled at first:

 Walt Disney was fired from his editorial gig because his boss said he lacked "creativity.”

 Before his Sony empire took shape, Akio Moriota’s first product was a rice cooker that just burned everything.

→  Rowland Hussey Macy: It took nearly 12 years and 7 failed store openings before the  founder of Macy’s hit his stride.

 Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations was rejected countless times, with one publisher saying, “I understand your desire to be detailed, but your descriptions bore me beyond comprehension.”

 Stephen King’s novel Carrie was rejected a whopping 30 times before finding a publisher.

 Thomas Edison’s teachers would harp that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” I bet they were reading his accomplishments soon after under the very light bulb he created.

 Sir James Dyson invented the Dual Cyclone vacuum technology...but only after laboring through 15 years and 5,126 failed prototypes.

With these examples of persistence in mind, how do you encourage your staff to bounce back from a mistake?

1. Stress The Error Instantly - Don’t keep that error (and person) in limbo. Once there’s a mistake, make light of the situation immediately and then begin to coach the employee through it.

2. Don’t Shout - You can be critical of someone’s errors around others, but only if the tone isn’t abrasive. The last thing you want to do is create a hostile appearance to not just that one employee, but everyone else around the department.

3. Future Proof the Process - One mistake from a single employee is an isolated event. The same mistake played out by others down the road is a disruptive pattern. Jump out in front of the issue, gather the troops and lay out a solid performance improvement initiative to snuff out the errant ways for good.

4. Refresher Training - Give employees a solid training foundation to revisit and polish their skills. If they stumble over some sort of compliance issue, give them a proper dose of off-the-shelf eLearning courses or customize your lesson with a video authoring tool to target the issue even further.

Like the opening line: pursue the greatness of your company and its employees by accepting some failures as teachable moments.

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