by William Craig

3 reasons to encourage employees to take risks

Mar 27, 2017
CareersIT Leadership

In a time when you need to stand out to succeed, why play it safe?

Hipster millennial working on computer
Credit: Thinkstock

The professional world is a ball of contradictions sometimes. While they’re busy filling job vacancies, leaders generally seek out people whose resumes demonstrate thoughtfulness, creativity and a pioneering spirit. The perfect candidate always gets hired — but far too often we end up telling those bold few to color carefully inside the lines.

That might sound a bit dramatic, but the truth is real risk-taking is essential in this world. If you’re not encouraging risk-taking in the folks who work for you, you’re missing an easy opportunity to expose yourself and your company to fresh new ideas and opportunities to achieve greatness.

Here are three reasons why you should encourage the members of your team to get innovative and take more risks.

1. You’ll be better able to solve problems

It might go without saying, but solving problems often requires trial and error. Sometimes a lot of it. If you’re not encouraging your teams to experiment and you’re instead encouraging them to take the same well-traveled paths on the way toward each new milestone, you won’t be prepared when something truly unexpected comes up.

Now, go one step further and make your role a more active one. That doesn’t mean micromanaging — what it means is actively encouraging your teams to come up with (for example) three or four ways to approach a complex task or achieve a goal. Eventually, the process won’t need to be nearly that structured — they’ll simply experiment on their own as a matter of course, turning it into an intrinsic part of your company’s culture.

2. Employees will be more invested in their work

America has a real problem on its hands where employee satisfaction is concerned. At any given time, more than half of the people in the U.S. workforce admit to feeling unfulfilled in their careers. It can be easy to write that off as a personal or work ethic failure, but the truth is this: There’s much more we can do as leaders to help our employees find satisfaction at work.

Encouraging experimentation is a great way to foster job satisfaction and employee engagement — not to mention a method for slowing job turnover. Replacing employees is expensive — very expensive, potentially — so it’s important to find small ways to ensure your team members stick around for a long while. Letting them work their way, and encouraging them to try new ideas and take risks along the way, is a great way to do just that.

Deriving a sense of accomplishment and self-worth from our work has a host of implications for our mental health. Let’s make sure our workplaces are places of personal growth.

3. Divergent companies are profitable companies

Our third and final reason for encouraging risk-taking in the workplace concerns cold, hard profit. Let’s make it simple: How many rich, multinational companies operating in the world today got there by taking calculated baby steps?

You probably answered “not many,” and you’re right. The largest companies that popped into your head just a moment ago have all been led by pioneers — but more importantly, they were staffed by people who were not just free to try new things, but actively encouraged to do so. The world needs divergent companies now more than ever to challenge the status quo and bring us new technologies and new ways of doing things. Don’t you want to be one of them?

In practical terms, you can exercise your business leadership by being transparent about who your heroes and touchstones are. Who inspires you? Which companies do you admire for breaking new ground? Chances are good they all began with a clear mission statement and a set of values. What are your values? And do your employees have values of their own?

Inspire greatness and a culture of risk-taking by encouraging them to read up on admirable companies in your industry and by helping them set individual greatness goals of their own.

Encourage greatness

People who take risks are the ones who end up changing the world for the better. And greatness means, in part, living in fearless pursuit of that kind of positive change.

It might feel difficult at first, giving up some of those small ways in which you guide your team and steer things toward your preferred outcome. But if you take a step back and encourage experimentation and creative fearlessness, you’re likely to find you’ve gained far more than you’ve lost.