Why should failure be encouraged to maintain a happy work culture?

Employees will be go getters and ever ready to take up challenges only if they are assured that they will not be pulled up for faltering in the process

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If we imagine ourselves as a collection of experiences, will we devalue failure as much? Not really. When we talk about success, we tend to look at it as an end. We do not consider it as the ‘means’ to an end. To achieve a greater understanding of life, we need to reduce our dependence on success for growth.

Employees in organisations look for a sustainable environment, where they feel the drive to immerse themselves in work, with their mental and psychological well-being intact. They are aware that their employers expect them to face challenges, achieve targets and so on, but will they do so happily if they are not encouraged to take a step and falter?

Space to experiment and even be celebrated for failure will attract more creative and free-thinking talent. Better ideas, constant raising of the bar, reimagining of possibilities and greater team glue will finally generate more success and celebration. 

Prabir Jha, founder and CEO, Prabir Jha People Advisory

Success vs growth

However synonymous they may sound, ‘success’ and ‘growth’ are not the same. Every organisation needs to understand the importance of growth. To grow is to be dynamic, and go beyond the routine, the mundane, the conventional. The daily tasks of firefighting make organisations afraid of failure. They fear that the moment they stumble, they may lose out on opportunities or a particular goal, that is very close to their hearts. What does this lead to?

Prabir Jha, founder and CEO, Prabir Jha People Advisory, says, “Part of it is in the human psychology, where we all seek to win. Part of it is cultural. What do we celebrate? Whom do we celebrate? If these metaphors are anchored around success, only then will people play safe, surely not by thinking or working on something that may fail.”

Obsession with success

Everyone — leaders and juniors — becomes so uptight that they are unable to experiment with conventional ideas and strategies. In such situations, we must try to think of the scientists who have given so much to the common society, in terms of healthcare, basic principles of biology, natural phenomena, such as climatic changes and so on. An ideal scientist is the one who doesn’t frown upon the idea of faltering. In fact, that is when our mental faculties get enlarged, with innumerable possibilities floating around us. The more they panic about not succeeding, the more hypotheses they will come up with. This does not mar their excellence. Rather, it makes them resilient.

Ramesh Shankar, chief joy officer, Hrishti.com, says, “Some organisations adopt a lessons-learnt project. What does one learn from an accident, which is not planned, which cannot be organised? For instance, in Safety, we are supposed to provide a report of near-misses, where there is a high likeliness of accidents. And, in future, that is what prevents us from committing the same mistakes or major accidents.”

Failure makes people comfortable. Let’s find out how.

Each failure is a lesson learnt

How can an organisation succeed without going through numerous trials and errors, or without going through the rigor and drudgery? Every time we fail, we register the stimulus and the response. The nervous synapses of our brain are shelved in a safe space, which is entered into, time and again, whenever a similar situation arises. Similarly, when organisations face failure due to failure of the system or a faulty idea, they can make a note of the exact point where the problem lay. This will encourage an all-embracing attitude and cause less panic when something similar happens in future.

“Failure means an increase in lessons. Some leaders give employees enough space to succeed or at least take risks. If a cricket team captain does not give enough space to the batsman, he will never muster the courage to score a six. Employees become innovative when this happens. When innovation happens, success is bound to follow. Indirectly, failure is what leads to success in such cases,” adds Shankar.

Creativity increases happiness 

Employees tend to loosen up in an environment where failure is not shunned. This loosening up is not to be confused with lesser productivity or lesser quality of service delivery. Rather, it means, they get enough space to sit back and think, however naïve or odd the idea may seem. They require an impetus from their leaders — a push — so that when they fail, they are not humiliated.

Jha says, “The most important part is the kind of culture one creates. Space to experiment and even be celebrated for failure will attract more creative and free-thinking talent. Better ideas, constant raising of the bar, reimagining of possibilities and greater team glue will finally generate more success and celebration.”

If a cricket team captain does not give enough space to the batsman, he will never muster the courage to score a six. Some leaders give employees enough space to succeed or at least take risks. This makes employees innovative. When innovation happens, success is bound to follow.

Ramesh Shankar, chief joy officer, Hrishti.com

Engagement and ownership

What exactly guarantees employee happiness? Is it the ability to have fun, to shrug off responsibilities or the assignment of less challenging tasks? Actually, none of these. The problem is rooted in the term, ‘happiness’. It is so often associated with fun and frolic, that we forget that being able to stick to one’s task and fulfil the regular targets diligently can also trigger happiness and contentment. Picture an employee, retiring for the day and getting into bed, retreating into deep slumber, with a head cleared of all responsibilities — that is closer to the idea of happiness. A day of engagement-filled experiences at the workplace is all one needs to be happy sometimes. Without engagement, the employee may risk an existential crisis.

To enable engagement at the workplace, it is necessary to include people in the decision-making process. Organisations fear redundancy, ideas with high vulnerability, less profitability and so on, whenever they think of engaging the lower strata of the organisation. They fear that these ideas may not work and cause the entire goal-driven approach to collapse. This fear makes them averse to taking risks or in some situations, they may not even ask for opinions!

Better collaboration and coordination

Organisations often forget that they are teams. In a team, one member takes the fall for the other. Responsibilities and power are uniformly shared, with lesser fingers being pointed to blame. When employees get enough space to make mistakes and bounce back in a healthy way, with support from their teams, it enhances the collaboration and coordination stimulants. Such a work culture gives birth to positivity.

“Talent attracts talent and they create an ecosystem where ideas are truly valued. There is more spontaneous team play and collaboration. Even if someone slips, others rise to help, not blame. Teams and cultures become more resilient and optimistic in the process” emphasises Jha.

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