Why I Tell Employees to Take Risks

During an employee’s first day at Lemonly, I give an on-boarding pep talk:

It’s our culture to ask forgiveness instead of permission. Take risks. Embrace your mistakes and let’s learn from them together.

Here’s a scenario:

An employee tries a new design outside their typical style. We excitedly send it off for feedback, hoping the client, too, will be on board. Instead, they want to stick with the usual approach.

Instead of chastising the designer, we cheerlead his or her effort. This client didn’t go for it, but the next may be delighted. Each stumbling block is a learning experience that pushes us forward.

Not everyone is on board with this mentality.

Too many companies value steady performance over innovation. So, what’s wrong with an employee who delivers steady results?

Imagine this:

You’re training for a marathon. A 10-mile run is a breeze, but at 15 you’re wheezing. A routine of 10 miles, while a consistently attainable and commendable goal, will never prepare you for 26.2.

Likewise, a business can’t grow and achieve new goals by doing the same old thing.

Throughout my career, colleagues have complained of redundancy in their work and the feeling they aren’t growing as a professional. They fear their bosses will punish them, not reward them, if they try something new and fail.

This stunts the culture of a growth-minded company. Lemonly has found success by fostering a supportive, pro-mistake environment, which is why I encourage employees to internalize it from the get-go.

The key to unleashing innovation? Risks.

A CEO should have the same mentality.

Throughout Lemonly’s journey, I’ve hesitated to venture outside my comfort zone. Should we invest in a new employee? Move downtown? Offer more services?

I now see I should have moved faster on these opportunities.

We have an awesome team. The move to Lemonly HQ was essential in cultivating an environment where our creatives can collaborate. And we’ve broadened our offerings from infographics to include video work, interactives, and microsites.

Risk-taking leads to opportunity.

The past year, I hired a CEO leadership coach who’s exposed weaknesses in Lemonly and in myself. It’s uncomfortable, but we couldn’t have strengthened our approach without recognizing where we’ve fallen short.

Now that we have 20-plus employees and multinational clients, we must continue to encourage risk-taking among our employees to spark organic growth. It’s good for our employees and it’s good for the business.

Here’s our strategy.

Let your employees know you expect them to make mistakes.

Innovating is like bungee jumping. Racked with doubt and fear, jumpers forget they’re attached to harnesses to save them from the fall. Encourage your employees to take the leap by assuring them that leadership has their back.

Recently, a few Lemonly employees have led the charge to venture into more video projects. It could open doors to new clients. But if not, that’s OK. We can’t grow if we don’t take risks.

Challenge your employees and document their progress.

At Lemonly’s latest company retreat, our team wrote down professional and personal hopes and fears for the next three years. The most common professional fear was not growing and learning.

Every trimester, each employee sets 100-Day Goals. One goal is related to development and trying something they’ve never done before. At the end of the 100 day-period, remind employees of the progress they’ve made. Ask what they’ve learned from their mistakes.

Reward employees who grab the bull by the horns.

The folks who we’ve promoted at Lemonly have done things without being asked. They’ve found something that was broken in the company and fixed it. They tried things from a new angle. Reward the innovators.

Promote risk-taking outside the office walls.

Lemonly’s benefits package includes the Adventure Bonus. After five years with the company, Lemonly employees get an additional week of PTO and a voucher to take a trip outside of North America within the next year.

If employees want the money, they’re required to travel abroad. It’s a cool way to force people to get out of their comfort zone. With new destinations, experiences, and cuisine come personal and professional growth.

Risks — good for the employee, good for the business.

Originally published at lemonly.com on July 30, 2018.