Creating a Culture of Risk-Taking

What critical qualities does a business need to achieve long-term success? A great idea, a solid business plan, invaluable human capital? Sure. But there is an x-factor in today’s climate that can make or break many businesses when change is the status quo and stagnancy means failure. This magical element is the culture of taking risks. Does your company foster a risk-taking environment? Do your employees take risks on an individual level? And most importantly, do you?

Why You Aren’t Taking Risks

High risk can mean high reward, but it can also mean losing everything. You may have a successful business, but if it can’t adapt to a marketplace where information and attitudes move as fast as ideas, it won’t survive. When fear of failure is stopping you from making critical changes, it’s time to adjust your thinking.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

Some ideas are bound to fail. Accept it. With each failure comes an opportunity to succeed and a chance to try again, and do it better. The most important things are to learn how to evaluate risks beforehand, to foster a culture of innovation, and to execute risks strategically.

Why Your Employees Aren’t Taking Them Either

The onus of risk-taking does not lie solely on the CEO. If your team is apprehensive about suggesting a new or controversial idea then they are likely fearful of the repercussions. This is indicative of a flaw in your corporate culture and not necessarily a reflection on the employee.

“You have to have people who are willing to push and take those risks. But at the same time you need the support from the top to go and do that.” – Janda Lukin

As entrepreneurs we have a job to accept the risk of failure in everything that we do and to help build that mentality into our companies. Decision-making cannot be left to the top echelon of executives. You need every level of talent in your company to contribute to your growth and your future, especially when there isn’t always time to get approval from the top.

When employees feel they have the support from management to go out on that limb, they will. Unfortunately, the fear of taking blame for an idea that doesn’t work stops many lower-level employees from contributing. But how do you change an aspect of your corporate culture that is already ingrained in the people you have working for you today?

Let’s Fix It

Corporate cultures don’t change overnight. But fortunately, they can change—with the right policies in place across the board. Chris Musselwhite, CEO at Discovery Learning, Inc., has some great tips for cultivating the culture you need. The first step is to remove the fear of failure from the top down.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Make sure employees know that their input and opinions are valued, no matter how small the scale and no matter the outcome. Any failure has the potential to become a step in the right direction.

When a new idea goes south, conduct a blameless post-mortem on what happened. Dissect the steps that were taken, why they didn’t work out as expected, and be sure to disseminate the findings.

Offer incentives for innovation, even in the case of failure. Encourage employees to stretch outside their comfort zones and foster critical dialogues with diverse perspectives about potential changes. True innovation almost always dissents from popular opinion.

Take for example the recent Tinder stunt pulled at SXSW this year. After being “swiped right” by a beautiful girl and asked a series of probing questions, users found themselves at an Instagram page promoting the new film, Ex Machina. They then discovered they had been chatting with a robot. Was this a huge risk on the part of the producers? Absolutely. But the buzz it has created may be far more valuable than a movie trailer.

How do you feel about this risk? Did they take it too far by duping and potentially alienating fans? Or is this just the kind of creative marketing solution that drives businesses today? Tell me where you stand in the comments below.

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