How perfection can lead to a toxic work culture

While most firms live by the mantra ‘failure is not an option,’ one corporate leader says this can actually be detrimental

How perfection can lead to a toxic work culture
Most leaders would agree that avoiding failure is preferable; however always pushing for perfection and creating a no-fail atmosphere can actually stifle innovation, said Rachel Mendelowitz, managing partner at McChrystal Group, in Fortune.
 
“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,” she said.
 
“Although it is incredibly uncomfortable, exposing and acknowledging when we fall short on performance is actually the very thing that drives higher performance.”
 
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:
  1. Encourage unorthodox questions
  2. Offer assistance without judging
  3. Nurture creative thinking
  4. Try new things, even if they fail
  5. 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.”
 
Related stories:
 
Is kiasu culture stifling your success?
 
Why letting go can make HR great again
 
Employee motivation: the 7 deadly sins

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