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18 Jan 2023

How supporting employees to take risks can pay dividends for your organisation

Enabling employees to take risks and be supported in doing so is key when recognising talent and innovation

How supporting employees to take risks can pay dividends for your organisation.jpg


Babies are master learners. In their few young years, their pace of learning is unmatched. Why? They ask for help…often, without shame, they don’t fear failure, and they don’t concern themselves with looking silly while they try.

As parents and caregivers, we support this process. We don’t criticise the failure, we applaud the effort and reinforce their instincts to try again. 

So why, as we grow older, do we begin to fear failure? Is it that our mistakes become slowly less accepted, especially when it’s felt we don’t learn? Does our reluctance to ask for help through fear of shame limit our ability to succeed? Is our self-awareness of appearing to not know it all dampening our willingness to even take the risk?

Failure can lead to success when it's viewed as taking smart risks. It can also lead to losses and a lack of future opportunity when it's not met with support and advocacy.

In a recent blog by Amy Stern, managing director, research and strategy at BI WORLDWIDE, she talked about how to support your employees, and encourage them to take smart risks which can pay for dividends for your organisation.

The privilege to fail

Let’s pause and think about this. How does bias and privilege relate to failure? Biases can shape the way we view people and certain events. When someone fails, our bias about that person colours whether that failure was an opportunity to learn and evidence of something they tried, or whether it’s evidence that they’re untrustworthy, bad at their job or unlikely to succeed in the future.

Not everyone has the privilege to fail. Three things need to happen to turn failure into success.

1.    You need resources to take a risk

Starting a business in your garage sounds modest, but only 64% of Americans have a garage or carport, according to American Housing Survey (2019). And you never hear about a business starting in the carport. Some resources are needed to risk it all to start a business in your garage, and resources are needed for the garage, too. Even outside of entrepreneurship, there are some who are able to take risks in their careers that those who are less financially stable wouldn’t want to take.

2.    You need support to recover from failure

When you fail, how will that failure be received by others?

Our research shows that 35% of U.S. employees don’t feel supported when they make mistakes. Executives and people managers feel more supported when they make mistakes than lower-level employees. Those with at least a bachelor’s degree report getting more support than those with less education. Inclusive leadership can drastically improve this outcome – 88% of those with inclusive leaders said they feel supported when they make a mistake.

3.    You need leaders who advocate for you

You’ve recovered and are onto your next idea or job opportunity. Will anyone support you? More than one in four U.S. employees don’t believe there are leaders in their organisation who would advocate for them. This increases to 45% of those who don’t have an inclusive leader.

Are we allowing everyone to make mistakes?

If risk-taking is a key priority for your organisation, consider whether people feel safe taking that risk.
Do they have the resources they need? This may not be a garage, but instead be time away from other priorities or leniency with financial goals.

Do they get support if a calculated risk doesn’t pan out? For failure to lead to success, the mistakes need to be identified early and met with support, not retaliation or punishment.

How are previous mistakes viewed by leadership? Ensure new opportunities are evaluated without bias. One person’s failure may be seen as another’s willingness to try something new. This can become subjective, so ensure you’re evaluating with fair, pre-set criteria.

In partnership with BI WORLDWIDE

BI WORLDWIDE is a global engagement agency delivering measurable results for clients through inspirational employee and channel reward and recognition solutions.

Contact us today


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