leadership, Startup Advice

It’s time to give your employees permission to fail

Sue-Ellen Watts /

In an entrepreneur’s world we are taught that to succeed we must fail. We know that to build the best product or service for our customers we will need to make many iterations along the way, always adapting to the changing needs of the market. We know that we will build things that people don’t like and don’t want and we may have to start again from scratch … multiple times. As a group, we seem to be okay with that. We tend to talk openly about our failures and even celebrate them, as we know another failure is only getting us closer to our big win.

However, in the world of the traditional workforce (and even education system) failure is not something we are meant to accept, let alone strive for. We are told that to be good we need to get it right, the first time and every time. There is even a mentality of hiding our mistakes or blaming someone else for them. Otherwise we are potentially heading to performance management (or detention)!

Read more: One in three young workers are worried about mistakes at work

I know that the best way for me to grow is to fail and learn from those failures. The failing is not too hard when you give things a go or put yourself in a position of discomfort, however, the learning comes from being able to feel the pain of the failure, take ownership of it and be open about it. Yet, if we have been ‘raised’ in a society where failure is not a good thing we are not exactly going to shout it from the rooftops are we?

I see this all the time in employees who are quick to defend any sign of criticism of their work. Not only will they often not take ownership of it but they definitely don’t want to talk about it!

Well I think we need to talk about it. We need to reflect on our actions and the outcomes. We need to share with our colleagues for group learning and we need to discuss our revised approach for the future. If we don’t, we won’t grow. And without personal and professional growth what do we have?

At my business we have many opportunities in different team meetings to share our learnings and we even use the ‘f’ word and ask for team members to share their failures. It has been interesting to see how hard it has been for some to admit failure. It seems to be very uncomfortable. But when I hear someone share a failure, what I actually hear is someone displaying courageous growth. It’s a positive not a negative. It’s what I actually want to see more of.

So, let’s give permission to our team members to fail. Encourage them to give things a go that they are not comfortable with and celebrate the growth that comes from finding a better way for next time! Because ultimately that is all that failure is.

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Sue-Ellen Watts

Sue-Ellen Watts is the founder of wattsnext, specialists delivering relevant HR for the modern world to SMEs across the globe.

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