Jun 18 2010

Rewarding failure

This seems like an appropriate topic against the backdrop of my recent post on becoming more of a data driven organization. When you expose data, you expose not just those areas of your business that are doing well, but also those that aren’t. And this brings up an interesting question:

Does your organization embrace failure or only reward success?

Specifically, do you encourage people to create challenging goals and give them credit for the work they did trying to achieve them, or do you (implicitly or explicitly) encourage people to sandbag and as a result “overachieve”? The answer to this question may be more nuanced than you originally think once you sit down to consider it. In fact, most people in our society are programmed to reward overachievement rather than an effort that falls short of achieving a really high goal. But the behavior this can encourage is counter-productive to many business activities. And while we may pay lip-service to the “setting lofty goals” idea, the reality is that most companies don’t work this way. They have engineering deadlines, sales goals, etc and rather than creating a culture of setting aggressive targets and trying like hell to get there, they prefer the greater certainty and achievement of “managing expectations”. Failure is something to be defended against (and if you do fall short, there’s always a reason that’s not your fault).

Thank about it. And maybe change the way you manage your organization.