Why are we so afraid to fail and why are we so afraid to let our employees fail? Often, it’s because we’re punished for it. If we make a mistake at work, we get written up for it or in the harshest of organizations, maybe even fired for it.
I challenge all you leaders out there to change this mindset in your organizations. I’m not asking you to give up accountability. I am asking you to rid the punitive cultures that exist in your workplaces. Failure without accountability has no place in the workplace but allowing people to learn from failure holds great value.
I’ve seen organizations lose exceptional employees because they punished them for a “mistake.” Some of these “mistakes” include making a decision that the organization felt should not have been made by the employee or forgetting to do something once. If you have a good employee in this situation, they may start looking for another job because you punished them right away instead of empowering them to learn from their mistakes.
It goes beyond mistakes though. Sometimes, employees are punished simply because they made a decision that the organization or leader does not agree with even though that decision may play out in everyone’s favor in the end. Employees don’t always have the chance to see their ideas, risks and decisions come to fruition because they get in trouble just for presenting them.
Allow your employees to fail and take some risks without punishing them. A punitive culture keeps people down after they fall rather than helps them back up. Remember that as leaders, we make mistakes too but we sometimes have the power to avoid punishment for them. We’re often trusted and expected to learn from our mistakes without any guidance from others.
Think about the last time you did something wrong. If you can’t think of something, you’re in desperate need of some self reflection. Then, think about the last time you did that same thing again but did it right. The feeling of relief that something that once went poorly now went very well is a pretty amazing feeling. Afford your employees the same right to have that feeling. Let them learn from their mistakes and have the opportunity to fix them or change them for next time.
Some of the most successful people and the best employees are the ones who make a lot of mistakes because they are the ones willing to take some risks. They learn from each mistake and eventually, they could be the ones who do something really cool that makes you and the organization look good too. So, stop punishing your employees for making mistakes or taking risks without first empowering them to learn from those mistakes or see the outcome of their risks. A punitive culture only punishes you.