How to create an environment where failures are positive

May 26th 2021 | Posted by phil scott

In order to support this type of culture top L&D professionals work with the senior team to embrace the ethos of intelligent failure.

This allows people to experiment and create while feeling comfortable that they are able to fail. Only by ensuring that failure is seen in a positive light can organisations make optimum use of the talents and skills that their employees possess.

What is intelligent failure?

The Harvard Business Review has detailed what constitutes intelligent failure. The basic premise is that organisations understand that experimentation and innovation sometimes ends in failure. They encourage the use of failures to learn and develop. Having this type of environment in place means that people can feel safe in divulging and owning any mistakes they make.

It also encourages people to suggest and try new practices and processes without fear of their being issues should the trial end in failure. Companies such as Microsoft, Netflix, and Amazon are known as being stellar examples of intelligent failure cultures.

Although, there are obvious advantages to this way of thinking in a business it can be difficult to implement this type of environment against a traditional business background. There are steps that top L&D professionals take to persuade the senior team to operate in an environment where failures are viewed in a positive light.

How do companies embrace the ethos of intelligent failure?

One of the main challenges that professionals face is that many businesses have a one size fits all ethos. In order to support a failure-based learning approach this needs to change to a personalised environment. There also needs to be a recognition of the benefits of failure outweighing any potential negatives.

L&D professionals who are helping to build this type of culture also build in contingencies for when continual failures happen. Although individuals should be permitted to learn from any mistakes they make, lack of learning from numerous failures must be addressed.

However, in the main, the use of an intelligent failure approach means that FAIL has to be seen as “First Attempt At Learning.” Tools such as the Kotter Change Model can be used to elicit this type of thinking.

It’s also important that the concept of innovation always being positive is addressed. Experienced L&D professionals do this by ensuring management and employees are aware that making changes is often a hard and stressful processes with many mistakes made along the way. Helping people to understand that failure is an important part of innovation and learning is liberating for individuals and for the business overall.

This helps to create and environment where people are no longer defensive when it comes to mistakes. They are not afraid of failing as they see it as a learning experience. This gives them the confidence to suggest and innovate which can only be good news for the organisation as a whole.

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