To please your customers, you need to give them what they can’t currently get from your competitors, or better still, from the industry; innovation is what sets you apart.
Getting there, though, is a tricky business. Besides having an organisational culture that promotes and rewards innovation, you need to secure buy-in from your employees as well. Most of the best innovative products and processes come from bottom-up and not top-down. If your people aren’t willing or able to innnovate, you lose out.
That entails facilitating better and smarter risk-taking behaviour in your people. It may seem like a particularly herculean challenge here in Singapore, where the societal norm is to “play it safe.” While it may be difficult, though, it’s not impossible. Here are seven ways to do just that.
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When people are already averse to risk-taking, they need a particularly good justification for getting out of their comfort zones. For that reason, it’s vital that you ensure that everyone is clear about why there’s such a pressing need for innovation in the first place.
By doing this, you’re giving people a direction for innovating, instead of having them take wild guesses and random stabs in the dark at it.
Clarify your team’s current and future priorities, goals, and constraints, and make sure everyone understands the strategic gains of risk-taking. Additionally, leverage your personal relationships with them to tie in their individual values and goals; help them realise that the personal benefit to taking risks at work is greater than the cost.
If you want your people to be comfortable taking risks at work, you need first to demonstrate your own willingness for it. A leader who leads by example in this way shows that he respects his people and isn’t taking them for granted.
The greatest determinant of how frequently people take risks at work is whether the environment is conducive enough for it. By definition, psychological safety is a pre-requisite for risk-taking behaviour; the Harvard Business Review defines it as “the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.”
People fear taking risks because they fear the negative repercussions of it. A huge part of this comes down to interpersonal factors; if you know from past experience that you’re going to get laughed at or looked down on
You may not be able to influence the organisational culture, but within your team, you can certainly provide effective leadership in creating a psychologically safe working environment.
When it comes to reluctance in taking risks, the crux of the issue is the fear of failure. In this regard, people tend to hold on surprisingly hard to Murphy’s law–the idea that everything that can go wrong will go wrong.
This is what holds them back from taking a leap of faith; the thought of what happens if there is nothing and no one there to break your fall if you miss the mark.
Tackle this head-on by reframing the way people look at failure. Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist and NYT bestselling author of “Mindset: Changing The Way You Think To Fulfill Your Potential,” writes that those who have growth mindsets are more willing to take risks. These people aren’t daunted by failure because they see it as a means for self-betterment.
In contrast, those with a fixed mindset are substantially more risk-averse; they tend to be more short-sighted and see setbacks and failures as a death sentence.
It’s equally important to be prepared for failure as it is to reframe it. Taking failure as a learning opportunity does not entail being impractical and unwise about how you take risks.
As aforementioned, people are scared that there’ll be nothing to break their fall if they fail. To mitigate this, ensure that the blow is softened from a practical perspective so that it reduces the perceived losses associated with risk-taking. When people know that there’s an established procedure for fail scenarios, they know that the cost of messing up isn’t as high.
However, it’s important that you don’t coddle them in the process. If you cushion the blow too much, you may also lull people into a sense of false security. This can remove their sense of urgency and demotivate them from putting in their 100% to make sure the risk that they’re taking pays off.
Disengaged employees tend not to be motivated at work. They generally prefer to stick to the status quo and do only what’s required of them; behaviours that are clearly at odds with risk-taking. Incentivising them with compensation and awards is not going to work.
If you want your people to take better risks at work, you need to facilitate their intrinsic motivation. According to Daniel Pink, NYT bestselling author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, people need autonomy to be self-motivated and engaged at work.
Clearly, giving people the space, time, and ability to take risks is a great help. Google’s and 3M’s employees, for example, have the famous 20% time and 15% time for personal projects; these have birthed everything from GMail to post-its.
Another reason why people fear taking risks is a lack of self-efficacy. To be clear, this is a separate issue from self-confidence. Where self-confidence concerns a person’s general evaluation of herself, self-efficacy is about practically evaluating your skills to see if you have the appropriate knowledge and expertise to overcome a particular challenge at work.
Low self-efficacy can make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing because you feel out of your depth. It’s hard to take risks in this state, since your priority is to just not mess up in the first place.
Build your people’s self-efficacy; send them for training, mentor and coach them effectively, and give them opportunities like “stretch” assignments to apply their skills. Once they feel relatively more secure in their abilities, they’re likelier to be more willing to take intelligent risks.