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Encourage innovation by deliberately becoming less risk-averse

Take Chances“I want my staff to be more innovative” is a statement I hear from many leaders. And the question I always ask in response is “Is your culture risk-tolerant or risk-averse?” If you want to encourage more innovation, then your working environment needs to be tolerant of risk-taking and one that encourages and supports learning from failure. But unfortunately, the truth is that the culture in many organizations is still quite risk-averse. Yet, if you really want your people to more innovative, then they must be more comfortable taking risks and trust that failures won’t come back to haunt them. So how do you accomplish creating such an environment without opening the doors wide for high-risk decisions? Here are two ideas.

First, define “acceptable” risk. Identify the areas where risk-taking is encouraged, and where it is not. For example, in the front desk department of a hotel, it may be okay for staff to offer alternate solutions when it comes to service recovery with a customer, but the dollar value of the goodwill gesture cannot exceed $75. Or it’s okay to modify delivery schedules within a single day, but not acceptable to make changes from day to day. I think you get the idea.

Second, change your attitude to risk-taking. Instead of calling it “taking risks”, refer to it as a “pilot project” or an “experiment”. Instead of referring to an unsuccessful initiative as a “failure”, call it a “test” or a trial. Just changing your words will indicate a more open attitude towards risk. And if you’ve traditionally been “risk-averse”, it’s a giant step in the right direction!

What other specific ideas do you have to offer to create a culture that is more risk-tolerant than risk-averse? Please share your experiences so that we can learn from one another.

For some more insights on what contributes to innovation and creativity, reference these past blog posts:

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