Freedom to fail and “flearn”: why organisations struggle to embrace failure

Trying new ideas is risky business. If you’re trying to be innovative or creative in your industry, you’re bound to make mistakes. In the worst case scenario, the ideas you implement end up failing. There are two ways to deal with this: the first is to associate the failure with you as an individual and then to penalise yourself by blaming the result on you the individual. A more helpful approach is to embrace the failure as a natural result of the process.

The best way to embrace failure is to look at it in terms of the lessons you can garner from it. We call this “flearning” – a portmanteau of failure and learning. Though not always possible, viewing failure as a lesson serves companies in reframing their failures as something to work hard towards not merely avoiding, but embracing and owning.

Here’s why organizations struggle to embrace failure as part of their culture, and how to solve it.

Blame culture

It is human nature to want to blame people when something goes wrong. It comes from the need to protect ourselves from being ascribed to causing calamity, and links in with our need to feel in control. While it comes from a good place, organisations can often keep up laying the blame as a form of protection. This often leads to a toxic culture of blame.

Blame culture is so unhealthy because it destroys collaboration and trust between employees and leads to blame shifting. With a pervasive blame culture, there is a likelihood of little energy being spent on actually doing exceptional work, but much time wasting on appearing to do great work. There will also be a general lack of accountability when mistakes do occur, and rather than fixing them as they occur, attempts will be made to cover up instead. Blame culture is really just shame culture, and shame culture doesn’t help anybody

The Swiss-Cheese Model

In healthcare, where demands are high and workers are under strain, many mistakes occur. Instead of pointing the blame at any one individual for mistakes, the swiss-cheese model is applied (1). This suggests that mistakes are a result of many “holes” in the system aligning to result in the adverse event. Therefore:

No one person is to blame for the event, it was a series of systemic failures which led up to the misadventure.

This model enables systemic change to ensure prevention of further events, and increased accountability by staff who report events rapidly. The Swiss-Cheese model can be applied in theory to the business workplace also, in that mistakes which occur can be as a result of multiple oversights compounding each other. Employees should then seek to address the system to correct mistakes rather than blaming each other.

The creative process should be inclusive not exclusive

The creative process only works in its truest form when everyone is involved. Involving all team members in the creative process will lead to the best ideas being discovered. Encouraging ideas from all members of the team creates a culture of inclusive innovation. Collaboration not only results in great ideas, but also allows each member of the team to feel heard in the decision making process on innovation, which is an important step in building company culture.

Embracing failure

As the great poet Alexander Pope stated; “to err is human”. Innovative solutions are created through trial and error, and it takes good leadership to find the balance between risk taking and the embrace of failure.

The key to this is in encouraging team members to learn from their mistakes and to report them with transparency. Helping your team understand that failure is not to be feared, but to be recognised as part of the creative process. The most effective way to deal with failure, then, is to make it fast.

Move fast and break things

Facebook might be going through a tough time right now, but it is definitely the benchmark when it comes to embracing failure as part of culture. Mark Zuckerberg’s famed saying “move fast and break things” becomes part of the zeitgeist of embracing failure. Failure should be understood to be a natural part of the learning process, but recovery should be quick, and the best employees will be adaptive and versatile when dealing with their mistakes.
(1) Seshia SS, Young GB, Makhinson M, Smith PA, Stobart K, Croskerry P.  Gating the holes in the Swiss Cheese (Part I): Expanding professor Reason’s model for patient safety. J Eval Clin Pract. 2017;24(1):187-97.

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Herzberg motivation theory: Why more money isn’t the answer to motivation

Though most employees think that a pay rise would be awesome, the truth is that money isn’t the main motivator for most employees.

Mo Money Mo Problems

The Notorious B.I.G didn’t just face a problem relating to disrespect.  The issue he faced is one underpinned by the Herzberg motivation-hygiene theory. The two-factor theory proposed by Herzberg in 2003 looked at job satisfaction and dissatisfaction as existing not on a continuum, but as separate entities.

Therefore one more may be paid well, but experience a great deal of job dissatisfaction due to hygiene factors. While we can’t solve the Notorious B.I.G’s hygiene problems, we might be able to solve that of our employees.

For clarity, we use the word hygiene to describe things that do not directly lead to higher satisfaction or motivation, but whose absence would produce great dissatisfaction in their absence.

The Two-Factor theory

Let’s look at the motivation-hygiene theory in more detail. At the heart of the theory, Herzberg described the factors which lead to job satisfaction as independent from those which cause from job dissatisfaction, and he termed these motivation and hygiene factors respectively. Examples of motivation factors include challenging work and recognition for one’s achievements, while hygiene factors might include job security, status, salary and working conditions. From this Theory there are four possible outcomes:

  1. A combination of high motivation and high Hygiene: this being the most ideal outcome where employees have high motivation and few complaints.
  2. A combination of high hygiene and Low motivation:  many jobs might be described in this way where an employee works simply to achieve a paycheck, such as a cleaner or garbage collector. Apart from my little brother, there aren’t many people who view these jobs with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
  3. A combination of low hygiene and high motivation: this occurs when the job is challenging but the conditions are inadequate.
  4. Finally, a combination of low hygiene and low motivation:  the worst outcome, employers should strive hard to ensure the workplace they lead cannot be described in this way.

Motivating employees by other means

Keeping the two-factor theory in mind,  there is nothing wrong with incentivizing employees with pay rises and bonuses. However we must also acknowledge that it will do very little to decrease job dissatisfaction. To ensure employees give their very best performance, they must be motivated using a two-stage process addressing both of these factors.

If you manage a team, seek to eliminate job dissatisfaction first. At the very least provide job security and comfort, as employees who face job insecurity have been shown to be more likely to have poor mental health, a factor known to be associated with poor work performance through absenteeism.

Another important aspect is creating a culture of respect and dignity for employees which may involve reducing workplace bullying through workshops, for example. Finally, tackle job satisfaction  through promotions, training, and development opportunities and ensuring recognition of employees’ contributions.

Applying Herzberg effectively – Festivus for the rest of us

To establish the factors contributing to job satisfaction and  dissatisfaction in your workplace, set aside some time with each of your employees to express their grievances confidentially and without judgement. If you’ve ever seen the Seinfeld episode about Festivus, you’ll understand how important airing grievances can be. Not only will this identify the factors to target to improve motivation, it will also improve your employee engagement by establishing trust in the employer-worker relationship.

From there, you can start to untie the knot that is employee motivation. Getting to the core of your employee motivation can be tough, but with incremental improvements you can start to shape your workplace culture for the better.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

Stansfeld S, Candy B. Psychosocial work environment and mental health: a meta-analytic review. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2006;32(6 – special issue):443-62.


5 ways to boost your company culture

The culture of a workplace is key in its productivity. One of the most effective ways to position a company for growth is to build a culture of success into its DNA. Having a healthy culture ensures that the light never goes out in the workplace, as employees become self-starting and constantly engaged.

We’ve seen many methods that have been applied to the workplace designed to keep employees engaged, but there is no better way to encourage employee engagement than to embrace the workplace culture. We’ll break it down a bit further into what makes a winning culture.

Here are 5 key areas to boost your company culture.

Create a culture of context

Creating a culture of context in the workplace is the first step in creating engaged employees in the workplace. By establishing a culture of context, employees understand how their work fits in within the context of their team, and in turn, how their actions within their team has impact in the organisation. Employees are in turn bolstered by team pride and will act to encourage each other to contribute their best to the work effort. Knowing where you stand within a company, and having a culture of context can keep employees engaged for longer.

A culture of Gratitude speaks volumes

The simple act of saying thank you to employees for their contribution to the successes of the workplace has been shown to improve their engagement (1). In turn this reduces absenteeism, and improves job satisfaction. The appreciation expressed doesn’t need to be provided in the form of expensive gifts, promotions or bonuses. In fact a simple email, or company announcement at the beginning of the meeting can be enough to reap the benefits of the enhanced positivity and culture of the workplace.

Specific shoutouts lead to incremental improvements

It is quite important to be specific in acknowledging the contributions of your team members, and to be the first to point them out. As a manager, being the spokesperson initially of your team’s success shows your engagement in the efforts of the team, and makes the individual employee feel valued and nurtured. Naming an employee’s specific contribution they provided in a team setting, as well as describing the challenges and hurdles they faced in the process has the effect of not only rewarding that individual, but giving their coworkers a chance to admire and aspire to the same level of success.

Creative celebrations help express team culture

One step further to the specific shoutouts is to organise company gatherings for the bigger successes. When organising these celebrations, be creative. Whilst keeping in line with the company policy, celebrating successes furthers a sense of company pride by employees and improves the fun side of work. Examples that we have seen are a health app startup having their top performers celebrate their new software release with day at the spa, to reinforce the relaxing atmosphere they were seeking to provide with their app. The specifics of the situation will vary upon the individual culture in that workplace. But the innovative take on the company event, rather than having a simple dinner or party, is sure to be appreciated by employees.

A culture of inclusion builds trust

Finally, one of the most topical aspects of employee culture is inclusion. There are many ways that inclusion can be built into culture, such as sharing information between teams, holding hybrid meetings between salespeople and developers, and dedicating Slack channels to information sharing between teams.

In the time poor environment of many workplaces, it may not alway be feasible to create wholesale changes to the company culture, However, small improvements to company culture made every day can turn the tide for employees, and keep them further engaged in their day to day activities. Implementing small incremental change is not a costly or time consuming exercise, and though some employers may feel that the reward of the compensation received for doing a job is satisfactory, this can easily disproved by the evidence (but that’s another story) (1).

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

  1. Waters L. Predicting job satisfaction: contributions of individual gratitude and institutionalised gratitude. Psychology. 2012;3(12A):1174-6.


The hidden costs of recruitment

Recruiting staff that are the right fit for your company is the most essential process in H.R. Despite its importance, the approach that many companies take to kick-start this process is to keep their recruitment drive internal.

Imagine asking all your friends to help you with your next home renovations. Unless they are all tradespeople, it doesn’t really make sense for most of them to want to do it. The same can be said of an internal recruitment process. The money that you are likely to save using internal recruitment (which has its place of course), or even doing a soft recruitment drive on Seek, Indeed or even LinkedIn may yield insufficient long term results.

The true cost of unfilled roles

Unless you are well informed of the need for new staff ahead of time,  you will likely to lose productivity through the unfilled position. Not only does an unfilled role carry a lead time if you don’t have someone on the horizon, but the work that is left will usually be undertaken by someone else in the organisation. This can lead to stretching people thinly, and a domino effect can cascade down to more sick days, and potentially more roles to fill. There are many cases of one unfulfilled role leading to several more bad cases.

The time of your recruitment manager

It’s a common joke the managers saddled with the task of interviewing new recruits loathe the time taken and the questions they have to ask. Not only does it grate on their nerves, it wastes the time that they could use to further productivity. Hiring an external professional to do the same task would save that time, but it of course adds to the overall recruitment costs.

The true cost of training

After you manage to find a new recruit, and are willing to pay the cost to hire and train them, you’ll then need to put in the time involved to train them. Training is an incredibly time consuming process, as not only do you potentially need to take away from another employee or manager’s time, but training materials can be expensive. Investing in training modules for highly skilled roles, or upskilling current staff to be able to train others can create time inefficiencies across the board.

The most efficient cost reduction strategy is Retention

As alluded to earlier, using a recruitment specialist may be an effective strategy, but not a cost effective one.

The most effective strategy for keeping recruitment costs down is to increase retention. Even small increases in retention can greatly impact the bottom line recruitment costs. If you consider that you’ll have to hire one less person every year, that can have significant effects to overall employee engagement. Increasing retention, combined with a positive company culture will lead to significant cost savings across the board.

A strategy focused on retention helps to reframe recruitment costs not as a matter of bottom line impacts, but more of a question around soft strategies involving company culture, employee engagement and a lot of the other factors that help employees stay in their role.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.









5 key strategies to keep employees engaged at work through positive psychology

The new era of positive psychology has yielded is an exciting time in H.R.  The new kid on the block in positive psychology has been focusing on positivity in team environments. With this focus on building team psychology has brought employee engagement into the leading edge in terms of ways to build positive psychology. 

Employee engagement is a productivity spark

The difficulty with employee engagement is that disengagement from tasks is somewhat natural. The way the brain works, with its limited attention span, means that distractions are inevitable. The important thing to realise, is that these mental breaks are not harmful to engagement, and factoring in these mental breaks for them can enable greater productivity in other working time. 

Applying the science

Here are 5 key strategies to use positive psychology to maximize employee engagement:

  1. Reflective journals: Encouraging employees to write a reflective journal can help them to better visualise their goals through reflecting upon their achievements in the workplace and deciding how they can better achieve their tasks. This is similar to self actualisation.
  1. Meditation: the latest craze  in mental wellbeing is “mindfulness”. This is one of the cornerstones of positive psychology, but it is actually an age-old practice harking back to Eastern meditation. So set aside a corner of the office, hire a guided mindfulness session to teach employees how to set aside their thoughts and focus on just existing in the moment, and allow employees scheduled time to practice. There are many applications to help with this, such as Headspace or even the Facebook meditation bot. 
  1. Exercise:  the benefits of exercise for mental wellbeing are well established. Increased mental wellbeing amongst employees will drive up productivity and engagement significantly. If there is no company gym, you can think about sponsoring employee gym memberships or hiring a yoga instructor for a lunchtime yoga class. Yoga has the benefits of allowing meditation time as well as exercise.
  1. Create a culture of Gratitude: This can be as simple as thank you notes or encouraging peers to be grateful with each other.
  2. Foster employee relationships:  create a culture of peer mentoring a peer groups within your workplace or encourage your workers to have lunch or take a break together. Social cohesiveness is especially useful for a harmonious working environment with engaged employees.

Positive psychology, really? 

Sure, some of the aspects of positive psychology in the workplace can seem a little fluffy. But the science is solid (1), after all, why would monks have meditated for thousands of years if it wasn’t effective?

It might not be all smooth sailing. Your employees may find it very difficult to engage with mindfulness, for example. If the implementation receives a lot of backlash or doubt, gently provide the science and encourage employees to keep practicing. Eventually the organisation will realise the benefits.  

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

1. Hamilton NA, Kitzman H, Guyotte S. Enhancing health and emotion: mindfulness as a missing link between cognitive therapy and positive psychology. J Cogn Psychol. 2006;20(2):123-34.

The quiet revolution: the prominence of workplace apps over talking

Workplace apps are all the rage at the moment. It would be hard to imagine what the business world would look like without Slack, Facebook Workplace, Microsoft Teams or Atlassian’s Hipchat to name a few. Even WhatsApp and Telegram have found their way into workplace communication, albeit not at the organisational level.

Workplace communication apps have many advantages over traditional email channels, streamlining effective communication and allowing for the co-location of discussions to a single source. 

Not only is Slack more popular than ever in terms of industry-wide adoption, many employees seem to be turning to these workplace-based apps for the sole medium of communication with their co-workers. Rather than simply getting up and walking down the aisle to engage in verbal face-to-face dialogue, most employees seem to find a better sense of engagement in using these apps, leaving some workplaces almost completely silent, save for the faint sound of keyboard tapping. So how did this quiet revolution occur?

The use case for communication apps in the workplace over face-to-face

Technology in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. Now that smartphones are ubiquitous, combined with the ease of communication facilitated by non-workplace apps such as social media, it’s not hard to see where the habits came from for organisations to adopt workplace communication apps. Communicating in short messages is likely to lead to more direct tasks being generated, creating the sense of productivity that these apps can give. 

Face-to-face communication has its own benefits

Technology can do a lot of things for us, but it might not be able to replace the good old face-to-face chat. It’s difficult to imagine a world where we had no verbal interaction.In an academic study, Melnik and Maurer actually found that direct verbal communication can enhance workplace productivity by reducing communication errors (1).

Therefore, it may be advisable to encourage face-to-face dialogue in the workplace. It is likely to increase the social interactions of employees, which in turn can lead to greater employee engagement due to a harmonious working environment. Offline communication can be a good way to build up company culture and express company values, as it is often difficult to express those values in an online environment. Even engaging in a social outing every now and again can build camaraderie and encourage cross-collaboration. 

Workplace applications are here to stay. Just as emails were seen as its own revolutionary piece of technology, apps have in turn put themselves at the forefront of how we communicate at work. As time has gone on, online communication has fundamentally changed how we work, but offline communication still has its place. Even as our workplace moves to remote working and flexible work hours, even just seeing a friendly face through Skype or FaceTime can be enough to promote collaboration, while also driving engagement.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.

  1. Melnik G, Maurer F. Direct verbal communication as a catalyst of agile knowledge sharing. Agile Development Conference. 2004:21-31.

How Elementary School teachers keep children engaged in school

One of the most difficult groups of people to engage are our youngest; Elementary School-aged children. Somehow,  millions of teachers around the world manage to engage these mini-people every single day. 

This begs the question: If they are able to do it, surely engaging mature professionals is a simple task. And yet, we find time and time again that employee disengagement remains an difficult problem in many businesses. What are we doing wrong? Perhaps there is something we can learn from our teacher colleagues…


How Do They Do It?!

Though teachers have a bunch of ways to keep a classroom engaged, we’re just going to touch on a few below.

One of the most basic techniques involves giving a child choice in how they want to be engaged in how they perform a task. E.g. They may be given a choice as to whether they want to prepare a poster about a particular learning topic or whether they would like to create a song about it,  these techniques appealing to different styles of learning i.e. visual versus auditory. 

Lesson: Giving choice in how to perform a task drives engagement

Another way in which teachers drive classroom engagement is to keep concise. Most children have very short attention spans. To keep students on task and able to concentrate over the course of a full school day,  many teachers will “ride the waves”, incorporating short breaks into their lesson plans e.g. allowing students to stand up and jog on the spot for 30 seconds before returning to their work. The physical aspect helps to keep children’s attention flowing  and is quite an effective technique. 

Lesson: Engagement can be built through timed “peak hours” of work time, where employees all stay silent for a few hours to maximise concentration

Finally, the most common way in which teachers keep children engaged is to maintain an effective rapport. To do this, a student must trust in the teacher that they have their best interests at heart, whilst being able to relate to their teacher. This can be achieved when a teacher shows genuine caring and empathy for the child.

Lesson: Engagement is maintained through “effective rapport”.


Does this translate to the workplace?

On a long enough timeline, these children will eventually become adults. As adults, we are only a few steps away from the children we once were. We have only slightly longer attention spans. We still require the nurturing relationships and desire to be valued. 

Though there are some key differences between the workplace and the classroom, they are fundamentally similar. People are people, and the principles of engagement are the same. There isn’t much of a difference between a classroom and a workplace environment when you think about the challenges surrounding keeping people motivated either.

Of the three key lessons here, it’s important to note that their execution in the workplace translates differently when considering the relationship of managers and team members compared to teachers to students. The principles translate to the workplace, but the practice is very different.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.