How perfection can lead to a toxic work culture

Some businesses live by the mantra “failure is not an option” but one corporate leader has spoken out about the no-room-for-errors approach, insisting it can stifle innovation.

Some businesses live by the mantra “failure is not an option” but one corporate leader has spoken out about the no-room-for-errors approach, insisting it can stifle innovation.

“In order to learn in a complex environment, trial and error is not only inevitable, it is actually the only effective way to navigate through uncertainty,” said Rachel Mendelowitz, managing partner at McChrystal Group, in Fortune. 

“Although it is incredibly uncomfortable, exposing and acknowledging when we fall short on performance is actually the very thing that drives higher performance," she added.
 
Just as fear of failure can negatively impact individual workers, it can also create a toxic work culture which stifles creativity and ensures that teams never come up with new ideas, she said.
 
Instead, leaders should embrace vulnerability and create an environment in which workers are comfortable with failure, Mendelowitz added. In this way, employees will be encouraged to take on new challenges and stretch themselves professionally.
 
She recommends a few ways of building this type of vulnerability within any workforce:
  • Encourage unorthodox questions
  • Offer assistance without judging
  • Nurture creative thinking
  • Try new things, even if they fail
  • Never rush to offer your perspective
“In short, we are doing ourselves a disservice by focusing with such intensity on who can solve today’s problems perfectly. Few roles are so static that we’ll be solving those same problems a few years or even a few weeks from now,” she said.
 
Leaders should instead focus on finding people who can fail and pick themselves back up without much trouble. These employees will be comfortable with their own vulnerability and will therefore learn much faster in the end.
 
“A workforce that admits it is imperfect and develops quickly – not in spite of that imperfection, but because of it – is one that can solve the problems we have not yet encountered.”

 

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