QLeadership Series – Encourage intelligent risk taking

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why aren’t more of my employees willing to take risks?” Perhaps it’s because the few times they tried and things went wrong, they were either disciplined or perhaps even fired. Even when employees succeed at something risky, with a pat on the back for the result, they may also get chastised for taking the initiative. After all, there are channels and chains of command, assigned responsibilities, managers paid to take risks, and so on. Even in more recent years, management has sent out a mixed message to employees: We want you to feel empowered and take risks-just don’t screw up or you’re out of here!

Let’s face it, everyone makes mistakes. The best managers know that, but they also recognize that developing a risk-taking mentality is part of helping employees develop an entrepreneurial approach in their work-and that’s motivating! So it is important for you as a manager and leader to support, encourage, and reward intelligent risk-taking behaviours.

The only way to get better is to try new things and organizations that don’t innovate stagnate. They may even go out of business. So how can you create a culture that encourages employees to take intelligent risks and feel comfortable doing so? Here are some ideas to consider:

Tell employees risk is a four-letter word for success

Creative and calculated risk-taking can improve any organization. That means that manage and supervisors should help employees try new ways of doing their work, of experimenting to make improvements, and encourage and support them in taking those risks. And what if things don’t work out as planned? That’s OK because it means they’re trying new things. And sometimes things don’t work out When employees are allowed to be human and make mistakes, the recognition for having taken the risk is what they’ll remember.

Empower employees to talk risk

Do this by allowing employees to take an active role in decision-making that involves risk. As a leader, you can set the example by trying new things. Demonstrate to employees how to evaluate whether or not to take a risk. Look for the critical issues, assess opportunities against objective criteria to deter­ mine the potential return, then decide whether the risk is worth it and if the organization can stand behind whatever results.

Encourage risk taking behaviour as Learned behaviour

Risk-taking is something we learn over time, one step at a time. Remind your employees that there is risk in much of what we do in our daily lives, whether          that’s getting married, having a baby, buying a house, changing jobs, buying a new car, or moving to another city. The more risks we learn to take over time and the greater those risks become, the easier it is to take on a risky situation that has potential and payoff for the entire organization and its people.

Define Smart Risks and Set Limits

We need to define what we mean by smart risk.  The last thing we need is for the entire department to be taking big risks that jeopardize the business. We need to clearly communicate limits to risk taking and have procedures in place for review of any proposed risk that would breach these limits, a kind of risk review board.

Identify Your Best Risk-takers And Unleash Them

Risk taking is a behavior, not a process, so identify who your best-existing risk takers are and encourage them to take smart risks. The more people modeling smart risk-taking behavior, the quicker and easier it will be to create that culture.  It’s also good to have them acting as mentors to other members of your team, helping to teach people how to take smart risks.

Create A Safe Environment For Risk Taking

We need to create a safe environment for risk-taking; this means not punishing people who take smart acceptable risks and fail but supporting them, helping them learn from their mistakes and then encouraging them to try again.  These are the kinds of mistake we should tolerate, the ones that look to move us forward.

Reward Smart Failures

Set up a structure that reviews failures and rewards the best attempts, as this will show that the organization is serious about risk-taking.

What gets rewarded gets repeated, so we need to reward the best failures as well as success as this will send a strong message to the organization. Something like a Who Dares Wins Award, showing that it’s about the smart risk taking not just about the success.

“Not failure, but low aim, Is a crime. “

-James Russell Low

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