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Allowing For Employee Failure When Pushing Them To Grow

Allowing For Employee Failure When Pushing Them To Grow

Your people need to feel safe when you encourage them to step beyond their comfort zones. Support their efforts in the ways they need most. 

Fear of failure can prevent staff from taking risks or testing new skills. Who wants to stick their neck out if punishment awaits every misstep? Concerns about public humiliation and ego injury are related barriers.

Employers can encourage professional growth by building a safe learning culture. Reducing the stigma of errors, and setting up people to succeed, creates a less threatening environment. Blaming and shaming are old-style motivators. Today it’s about partnering with employees and making development opportunities manageable.

Invite Participation in Goal Setting
A solid first step is to work with staff in preparing their professional growth objectives. Use their performance reviews and career development plans as aids. Tie developmental activities to current and future company needs.

By involving the employee at this early stage, they are likelier to take ownership of whatever gets decided. It also makes them feel more valued and understood. The incentive to stretch themselves or undertake reasonable risks thus comes increasingly from within.

Define Expectations And Consequences Clearly
Determining what will constitute success or failure in growth assignments helps set mutual expectations. Managers and their direct reports know in advance which results to strive for. Efforts become focused and support can be tailored to the tasks at hand.

If goals aren’t met despite best efforts, the responsible parties should be aware of what awaits them. Consequences of a failure will depend on severity and cause. Dereliction of duty during a large, expensive project deserves greater punishment than an inadvertent error on something minor. In any event, strive to balance discipline and performance.

Don’t forget to reward goal achievement and the use of exemplary means. Demonstrate to staff that their exertions can earn them special status.

Reframe Acceptable Failure As Experiential Learning
It’s unrealistic to expect perfect results from recently trained staff. So be pragmatic about it. Let them know upfront which types of errors will not be penalized. Categorize those instead as experiential learning.

An example might be when someone modifies an existing process or comes up with a unique method. During testing it may not work as hoped for. Should that inventive employee be demoted or otherwise sanctioned? Not unless they carelessly or deliberately sabotaged the works.

Protect Learners From Making Big Mistakes
Of course, assigning mission-critical tasks as experiential learning – especially when placing freshly trained employees at the forefront – is not advisable at first. Begin by testing the waters with an individual or team. Design a less consequential activity that can be recovered from in the event of mistakes.

Also, set some challenging interim deadlines. Give enough room for failure to occur manageably. Then monitor progress, and intervene (if necessary) at each pre-determined stage. Carefully discuss what went wrong and what worked.

Moreover, it should go without saying that employees in stretch assignments ought to be properly trained. Scrimping on instruction could have pricey repercussions. 

Encourage Quick Identification Of Problems
Another way to prevent major fallout from failure is making problem recognition a priority. That requires mechanisms for error prevention and timely revelation. Any workplace that reflexively shoots the messenger for pointing out mistakes is vulnerable to under-reporting of issues. 
 
While celebrating bad news may not be practical, at least investigate thoroughly and fairly before pointing figures. People accept that serious, avoidable mistakes deserve appropriate consequences. What hurts morale, and fosters destructive secrecy, is unjustified or cruel blaming and shaming.

Accept Responsibility If Part Of The Failure
Accountability is a two way street. Maybe a staffer isn’t exclusively to blame for the botch. Did the employer provide them with sufficient tools and support for growth? Were management’s expectations defensible given the circumstances?

Inspiring staff by accepting blame and sharing the credit is commendable. A sense of partnering for growth is reinforced. To get employees excited about leaving their comfort zones, put aside personal ego, and behave like a trusted associate.