Stop Training Your Employees To Not Try

When employees step out of their comfort zone and try something new, magical things happen. Google allows its employees to spend 20% of their time working on pet projects. These pet projects are things the employee sees that could benefit Google.

Most organizations are not like Google. They are unwilling to give their employees time to try new things, even when the organization would benefit.

Monkey with a shocked expression on its face

Photo by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash

Worse, organizations often punish their employees for trying something new and failing. And the employees don’t understand why they can’t attempt something new.

This makes me think about the monkey experiment Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad wrote about in one of their books. The authors tell the story of four monkeys placed into a room. In the room is a pole with bananas at the top. A monkey begins to climb the pole so he can enjoy the banana. Reaching out for the tasty meal, the monkey is doused with cold water. The monkey screeches and retreats. The remaining monkeys each attempt a banana retrieval. Each receives the cold shower. They all give up.

The researchers removed one of the original monkeys and replaced it with a new monkey. The new monkey makes for the banana. He is pulled down from the pole by the remaining three original monkeys. The new monkey gives up after repeated attempts.

One by one, the researchers replace all of the original monkeys. As a new monkey is introduced, the remaining monkeys pull him down. Soon, none of the original monkeys remain. All of the monkeys in the room had never been drenched by the cold shower. However, none of the monkeys would climb the pole to get the bananas.

Leaders in organizations can shower their employees with a metaphorical cold shower.

An employee attempts something new. The leader reacts negatively. The employee retreats away from trying something new.

The employee sees a new hire coming on board. He sees her trying something new. He warns her not to go forward with her attempt. She goes forward anyway. Then she gets a smackdown from the leader.

Eventually, the leader leaves the organization. A new leader takes his spot. She wants to encourage innovation but wonders why her employees are not trying anything new.

They’ve been trained not to try anything outside of the norm. They know they will get in trouble if they want to experiment.

Our reactions and the reactions of those who have come before us have created negative cultures in our organizations. The employees can fear what is coming if they step outside their pre-defined box. They’ve been trained to not try.

You can change these attitudes. These presuppositions. Changing the way people feel and think will take time. Yet you can do it by doing the following.

How To Get Your Employees To Try

Reward risk:

Risk is always inherent when trying something new. You don’t know what the outcome will be. Sometimes, you’ll see success. Other times there will be a failure.

However, we cannot afford to stop our employees from trying something new. The more they try, the more they learn. The more they learn, the more they have to bring. And, if they’re successful, their success brings something new to your organization.

When a team member takes a risk, reward them. Maybe it’s a gift card to their favorite coffee shop. Or it could be an extra day off. Give them something to strive for.

Share your failures:

We all have failures. We rarely share our failures.

Our reluctance to share failures needs to change.

You can help your employees gain the courage to try new things by sharing your failures. Tell them what you’ve done in the past. Share what went wrong. Let them know they are not alone in trying and failing.

Don’t punish failure:

You fail. Other leaders failAND your employees will fail at times.

We cannot be tyrants when it comes to failure. Instead, we need to understand failures happen. We can look at the failures to see what happened, help them understand what went wrong, and learn how to do things differently.

Punishing failures for trying something out of the norm only encourages your people to stop trying. If you want them to try more risky ventures, you have to give them the freedom to try.

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