Reduce the Fear of Failure by Rewarding Behaviors Over Results

Going through the ol' RSS a few weeks ago, I came across this article from the Harvard Business Review blog discussing the topic of failure. The author, Scott Anthony, describes this fear of failure as an incentives problem.

He's right.

Companies who fail very consistently most likely won't survive long. This is a fact. However, this fear of failure tends to kill innovation. Employees are encouraged to keep doing "what works" without exploring alternatives. It's safe - but not innovative. Most employers are concerned with the end result only and not whatever processes it takes to get there. One can't completely fault this mentality, the bottom line utlimately pays the bills. However, using incentive programs to emphasize rewarding those processes over just the end result could help companies meet in the middle between having a good bottom line without stifling innovation.

Your most successful recognition programs emphasize modifying and rewarding behaviors over results. Scott Anthony cites another post by David Simms regarding the power of positive failure by saying "failure isn't always a bad thing, and all things being equal, you'd support someone who has tried, failed, and learned over someone who has never tried." Taking risks is part of good business. Those risks need to be calculated ones, ones that have potential to help the company in some way, which is where rewarding behaviors comes into play. Recognizing and rewarding the steps employees take to make a potentially positive effect on the bottom line will yield better long term results.

Playing it safe, doing the same ol', same ol', out of fear of screwing up is a good short term plan. However, stifling workers' ability to change pace and processes will hurt any organization in the long term. Recognize the little changes your employees make to better the overall company goals. And be prepared to hit a few roadbumps along the way. The best companies always do here and there. They just learn from those bumps and become better companies as a result.

What do you think?