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The Project? Epic Fail, Bill … But Here’s a Trophy!

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"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."  - Albert Einstein


You want your employees to innovate … to take risks … to think outside the proverbial box. But innovations typically carry a high rate of failure.

How does your company respond to failed initiatives? Is it a "no-mistakes" culture? Are mistake-makers shown the door?

The recession has caused many employees to take a play-it-safe approach to their jobs. Don’t stick your neck out too far in fear it’ll get chopped off.

Recognizing this, some leaders are working to change the risk-averse culture at their organizations. In fact, they’re going out of their way to celebrate employee failures, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. Examples:

  • SurePayroll, the Illinois-based payroll services firm, hands out a $400 Best New Mistake award to workers who are trying to do a good job, make a mistake and learned from it.
  • Advertising firm Grey New York started handing out a Heroic Failure award—an actual trophy. The company launched the program, its leader said, after it worried that employees were becoming, "more conservative, maybe a little slower. Rewarding a little risk-taking was potentially an answer."

At the Build-a-Bear chain, the CEO borrowed an idea from her first-grade teacher to create a “Red Pencil Award.” It goes to employees who discover a better way of doing business through learning from an apparent mistake.

No one wants to celebrate repeated mistakes, poor work quality or bad habits. But what these companies are doing is different—freeing employees to innovate without the fear of one-strike-and-your-out sentence.

So what’s the culture in your workplace? Do workers fear making errors ... or are “good” mistakes tolerated … or even celebrated?

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