Take the Shot

By Mary Lynn Fayoumi, CAE, SPHR, GPHR, President & CEO
Published September 11, 2018

Wayne Gretzky quoteThis summer I had the opportunity to attend an Executive Leadership Forum in Edmonton, Canada. The annual program had come highly recommended by association peers due to its intimate size and compelling content.  Several times since the event, I have reviewed my notes and contemplated the key takeaways from the conference. The one resounding message that keeps jumping off the page for me is summed up best in a quote made famous by Canada’s hockey great, Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  

The fear of failure is human. And in many organizations, making mistakes is not only frowned upon, but can also lead to unpleasant or serious consequences. So, how are we to learn and grow if we can’t experiment, try new things, and learn from our mistakes? The simple answer is we can’t!  It's rare indeed for anyone to be able to perfect a skill without determination and practice, and this simple truth certainly applies in the workplace. As leaders we need to embrace this reality and be open to experimentation as well as failure if we want to up our own game as well as the success of our teams and organizations.

What are some ways to do this? First, by being humble and admitting you don’t know it all. By owning your own shortcomings, you create an environment where others feel comfortable not being perfect. Shine a light on things you don’t know or want to improve upon by bringing relevant issues up in one-on-one or team meetings with staff.  Nurture a culture where experimentation is valued, not frowned upon. You may have heard the catch phrases “Fail Fast” or “Fail Forward,” but what are you doing to ensure that people feel safe enough to do so without negative repercussions? 

Next, provide people with the resources and support to be innovative, to pursue opportunities, and to explore different approaches to old problems. Stop yourself from saying things like, “We’ve done that before” and “That will never work here!” Phrases like these kill motivation and may prompt your talent to look for jobs elsewhere. Instead, ask your employees to make a business case for trying new things, forging new partnerships, or investing in additional staff or technology. Expecting timelines, business metrics, and regular updates should not restrict creativity, but will help set boundaries and improve communication. 

Finally, make sure to schedule time to monitor progress and evaluate the experiment’s success or failure. In most cases, there won’t be 100% success or failure, but incremental learning opportunities will abound. By sweeping problems or mistakes under the rug, you inhibit the chance to salvage important data that can be utilized to improve a product, service, process, etc. Some organizations and teams have formal programs to ensure that these critical nuggets are not lost, but unfortunately, many are still failing to capitalize on the information to be gleaned when things don’t go as planned. 

Are you ready to take the shot?  If not, take a closer look at what’s holding you, your team, and your organization back. Perhaps you need to start with some conversations with your own leaders or staff about the fear of failure.  Share articles on the subject, bring in a guest speaker, or make it a recurring topic at meetings. Culture shifts take time and energy, so don’t expect results overnight. But, with some targeted effort, it will become clear that mistakes are not a bad thing. They are a critical component of improvement and growth.


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