Break Free And Create An Experiment-Friendly Workplace
Many workplaces suffer from inertia, risk-avoidance, and an utter lack of entrepreneurship. Paralyzed employees are unable to experiment and innovate. A big research study of ours showed only 34% have the freedom to do so.
How then to create an environment in which people feel safe to try new things, and (importantly) safe to fail? That’s our focus in this post.
'Analysis paralysis' is the disease of over-thinking. It encourages inaction; employees, teams, and even entire companies stop making decisions. Progress grinds to a halt.
The common trigger is risk avoidance. Employees are pushed to follow the rules and to adhere to strictly defined procedures. While these may have been designed with a good heart, they create unhealthy side effects. People avoid risk at any cost.
The clearest signs of this disease are phrases like “That will certainly never work”, “That's not the way we do things around here”, and "Let's go with the way we've always done it".
We experienced it in our old corporate jobs. For example, when pricing a sales proposal for a new project, we had to go through lots of bureaucracy. Multiple sign offs were needed for even the tiniest proposals. It meant that every person and department covered their ass. They could not be held accountable if anything went wrong!
The result? A ridiculously high cost to ensure everyone was safe. Even if the most unpredictable, insane circumstance happened, we would be safe with our pricing. Internally that might sound solid. But the customers had a different view. We often out-priced ourselves. Common sense was ignored. There was only room for sticking to procedures—and covering your ass!
This example is not uncommon. Fear of failure (and experimentation) is widespread in traditional organizations. But beware: it's not easy to fix.
Throwing off the shackles
We have often written about ways to reduce fear of failure and to increase responsible risk-taking. See our blogs on push decision-making to the frontline.
But there's another aspect we address in this post. It's the creation of a safe environment. To break through risk avoidance, people need to feel safe. Safe to try, safe to experiment, safe to fail, and - just as importantly - safe to succeed. To inspire you, here is how some progressive organizations create safety.
1. Promote experimentation
Action is a powerful antidote to ‘analysis paralysis’. You act, and that encourage others too. Start experimenting yourself. Set an example. Put your arse on the line and get others excited. Lead by example. This is even more successful when you're in a position of power.
Besides being an example, promote experimentation. Push others to try. Make awards to those leading the way. Put them in the spotlight. Keep in mind: it’s better to try and fail than to never try anything at all. Got an idea for a new product or service? Experiment! Want to improve your way of working? Experiment! Like to skip those useless alignment meetings? Experiment!
2. Celebrate fuck-ups (and successes)
Experiment ruthlessly. Succeed elegantly. Fail masterfully. Whether you like it or not, failure is part of the deal. It follows that you have to be damn sure people feel safe enough to fail. Without this psychological safety you’ll get nowhere.
If people fail, they should be rewarded - not punished. You’re not going to punish your child for falling over when learning to walk, right? Look at it the same way. Without falling you’ll never truly rise. Experiment, evaluate, learn, adapt.
Some companies go to great lengths to create such environments. fuck-up nights.
3. Ask "Is it safe enough to try?"
Some companies want to avoid the traps laid by the conservatives. Therefore, they push themselves to ask: “Is it safe enough to try?” This tests if a decision will seriously harm someone or something; or if it risks losing the entire business.
As you can imagine, most of the time the answer to that questions is 'No'. If so, go ahead and try. See what happens. Evaluate and adapt based on those outcomes. Don't get lost in over-analyzing.
"It’s safe enough to try!" is all you need to know.
It's vital for companies to continuously experiment. Organizations need to be cured of 'analysis paralysis' to foster innovation, engagement, and performance. Let's throw off the shackles of risk-avoidance and create workplaces that are experiential, adaptive, and continuously learning.
It's not only better, it's also more fun.