Are You Talking Enough About Your Failures?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Employees love a winning boss, right? Maybe. But, they also get tired of hearing about how successful the boss is. And they fear they’ll never live up to your expectations.

If you want to increase employee engagement and loyalty, expand your conversation. Instead of always talking about your successes, touch on your failures. New research from Amy Edmondson, professor in leadership and management at Harvard Business School, categorizes types of failure. According to Edmondson, you can help employees learn to become more confident. Specifically, through complex failure and intelligent failure, you can guide and “promote learning in the workplace.”

Complex Failure

In these situations, you understand the desired outcome and you know how to get there. But, the outcome isn’t always what you hope for. Edmondson points to hospital care scenarios as examples of complex failure. Each staff member understands their role in the process of caring for a critically ill patient. Despite great teamwork, the patient may not survive.

When the outcome is failure, a manager should review the roles and performance of each individual. Talking through the process can lead to new approaches. A 360 review of expected actions can help everyone remain alert and observant during a future operation. The important part is to talk through the difficulties. Employees learn when you point out what you and they might have done better.

Intelligent Failure

In a business setting, you’ll frequently launch new initiatives and products. You won’t have a perfect hit rate. Some products will fail. In fact, many products will fail. These failures can be a huge hit to the ego.

Or, you can turn the situations into teachable moments. Before you embark on your next product launch, assemble your team. Talk with them about what went wrong. Ask them for input on what you should do differently for the next product launch. When you show your vulnerability, you also show your human side. Your employees will love you for that.

They will love you even more if you allow them the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the company’s future. This role should include the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them without the fear of retaliation.