Building a Workplace That’s Failsafe

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What does it mean to have a failsafe workplace? It’s not a place that’s safe from failure—it’s a place where it’s safe to fail. Here’s the difference and what it means to leadership.

Whether real or imagined, we all attach blame to failure. It’s inextricably tied to the feeling of things not going as expected. Sometimes we blame ourselves, and sometimes we blame others, other times we struggle to blame anyone specifically, so we assign it to an idea, culture, or something more abstract. For your workplace to be failsafe, this is a mindset that needs to change. Because the connection between failure and success is more correlated than you think.

Great leaders know that the idea of failure is multi-faceted. Obviously, a series of major blunders can sink a company. But for another firm, a series of “strategic” failures can bring about an unprecedented level of growth or innovation. There’s good failure and bad failure. The trick is knowing the difference and being proactive toward both. Let’s look at this more closely.   

Leaders need to carefully assess the entire spectrum of reasons failures occur, from deliberate carelessness to complex task difficulty to thoughtful, intentional experimentation. When executives were asked to evaluate failures in this light, they acknowledged that only 2-5% were truly blameworthy. But when asked how many failures are treated as blameworthy, the answer was 70-90%. Keep your emotions in check. Think big picture. Hit the “pause” button on blame.

Understand Different Types of Failure
Shifting away from a blame mindset doesn’t mean throwing your standards out the window. It’s possible to lead in a way that makes your team feel safe to admit, explore, and learn from failures and still hold the highest standards of excellence by understanding different types of failure:

  • Preventable – This type of failure is caused by deviation in process, inattention, or inability. It’s easily identified and fixed.
  • Complexity – This is a result of the inherent uncertainty of business—the different combinations of needs, people, and problems. Identifying and remedying small process failures can prevent serious issues from snowballing.
  • Intelligent – These are “good” failures that provide valuable insight. Where experimentation is intentional and controlled, a failure can give just as much insight as a success, leading to faster innovation and problem-solving. 

Make Failure Part of the Process
When failures occur, look at how your employees respond. If you’ve created an environment where someone can try something new, fail, and still turn that failure into a valuable learning experience, you’ll have innovative employees that help your business adapt and grow. Major companies are embracing this idea – Google even has a built-in review process for when something goes wrong. Your best employees will admit, own, and learn from their mistakes.

Creating this dialogue about failure isn’t just a top down endeavor either. Executives can lead by example when they are transparent about their own failures, both past and current. This shows your team that failure is something to be acknowledged, examined, and overcome—and not just a reason to point the finger. Ultimately, it’s part of the success story for both organizations and individuals.

Do you want to be a great leader? Fail. Let your team fail. Let your team know you fail. Know that you will fail again, but not in the same way. And out of that failure, you’ll build the culture that’s needed to build a better business.