Why Encouraging and Supporting Risk-taking Can Help Set Your Culture Apart

Continuous learning is one of the things that sets a culturepreneurial leader apart and helps set the stage for success. One of the important ways in which we learn is by taking risks and either succeeding, making mistakes, or failing – all in the name of growth.

While it can be hard for people to embrace risk-taking, it’s an important element in successful corporate cultures.

“It can be hard for people to embrace risk-taking, mainly because the idea of risk is so closely associated with the fear of making mistakes or of failure. But solving problems requires trial and error, mistakes, and failures in order to get to the best possible outcome. An aversion to risk-taking and a too high comfort level with the status quo means organizations (and individuals) are in danger of becoming stagnant and losing their competitive edge. Culturepreneurial leaders strive to create a culture where people understand what risk-taking means, and where they feel comfortable proposing and taking risks by asking, “How can I approach work, problems, or opportunities differently?” Culturepreneurs also recognize that if they don’t encourage their team to experiment, when something unexpected does come up, their team will not be prepared to pivot and adapt.

“Risk-taking thrives in an environment rooted in psychological safety and when the change being considered is directly linked to the organization’s purpose. One great example of this is offered by Knix. The company’s reason for being is to change the way their community and customers feel about themselves. That purpose is front and centre in everything Knix does—both inside and outside the organization—and it served the company well as it was established and began to grow. But in 2016, founder and CEO Joanna Griffiths made what seemed to be a high risk decision: to pivot from operating as a wholesale-focused B2B company to a direct-to-consumer brand. It was more in line with the company’s purpose to work directly with its customers and tell its own story than to rely on distributors to deliver on its message and mission.

“'[It] is a really intimidating and scary thing to do three years into your startup, or your organization, to raise your hand and kind of admit that you got it wrong, and that you’re going to scrap the three years of effort and work that you put in and rebuild,’ says Griffiths.(1) But what a great decision that turned out to be, especially given the impact that COVID-19 has had on retail businesses globally.

“Risk-taking isn’t always as high stakes as Griffiths’s decision to completely alter the company’s model; it can involve small, everyday changes to how work is done. Whether the risk is big or small, it needs to be managed in a way that aligns with your culture. If risk-taking is already ingrained in your culture, then pushing yourself and your team to be even more innovative may be scary but it will be embraced more easily than it would be on a team that is highly risk-averse. If risk-taking and innovative thinking aren’t part of your culture, don’t jump into the deep end. Instead:

  • Define what risk-taking looks like with your team. Invite the team to identify ways in which they can take “smart risks” for the purpose of learning, agility, innovation, and to drive better results and solutions.
  • Invite team members to share examples of how they can take more risks. Be prepared to share your own examples of how you will take more risks and how you will support them along the way.
  • Work together to identify barriers to risk-taking that exist within the team and to identify ways to minimize those barriers.
  • Include time in team meetings for brainstorming and idea generation. Encourage team members to explore ideas, even ones that are not supported by the majority.
  • Look for opportunities to try new things and celebrate and acknowledge when team members take a new approach.”

Excerpted from Chapter 12 (Continuous Learning) in The Culturepreneur: How High Performance Leaders Craft Culture as Competitive Advantage (Page Two 2021). Order your copy today.

1 Marty Parker and Joanna Griffiths, “Episode 30: Building a Mission-Led Organization,” Building High Performance Cultures, January 13, 2021, podcast, 32:10, youtube.com/watch?v=YL1Zrovi3rQ