How Leaders Can Support Experimentation

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Written by DATIS Guest

July 19, 2018

How Leaders Can Support Experimentation

This DATIS Blog Article, “How Leaders Can Support Experimentation”, was originally posted by Kevin EikenberryLeadership & Learning with Kevin Eikenberry, on November 28th, 2016 and was reposted with permission.

Before I dive into my idea and proposed actions for you today, I must start from a different point of reference. I realize that while most people who have read this far intellectually agree with the premise that experimentation is needed and helpful in our organizations and teams; I also know that emotionally and psychologically, you know that experimentation is risky and hard.

For many (most?) of us, experimentation means more than trying new things to get better solutions; it also means chaos, mistakes, errors and change. When we experiment, we challenge the status quo and if the experiment works, we know real change is next. And since it means those things to you, it means those things to your team too.

Recognizing the flip (dark) side of the experimentation coin is important; and while it is important to recognize it, let’s talk about the positive side too – the side you were thinking about if you have read this far.

Experimentation can:

  • Create improvement. Things aren’t perfect in your world, and so experimentation can help you find improvements.
  • Create opportunities. Experimentation can lead to new products, services or experiences for your Customers (and/or create new Customers).
  • Create engagement. The current holy grail of organizations is an engaged workplace. When people feel they have the chance to try something and make a difference, they will be more engaged.
  • Create excitement. Experimentation, while scary at times for the reasons listed above, can be a very exciting thing in the workplace. How often is your workplace defined as exciting?
  • Create loyalty. People are far less likely to leave an organization where they feel they can make a difference, try something without fear, and feel a sense of excitement at work.
  • Create a flexible culture. An organization that experiments, is an organization that is flexible, adaptable and more open to change. I’m guessing you’d like a culture that is described in those ways.

So, if you want more of that good stuff, here is what you can do as a leader to support it, encourage it and improve the chances that experimentation is happening in your organization and on your team.

  • Experiment yourself. Want people to experiment? Do they see you doing the same? Are you making mistakes? Are you looking for new ways? Are you TRYING?
  • Make mistakes acceptable welcome. It is one thing for it to be OK to make mistakes. The fact is we all know we can learn from our mistakes but in too many places we don’t act that way. You don’t want it to be OK to make mistakes, you want mistakes to be welcomed – as a way to get better. (Tweet That)
  • Share the big picture. This is important for many reasons. In the realm of experimentation, when people know the big picture, they will make their mistakes in pursuit of that big picture, which are the mistakes we want.
  • Have clear goals. Have goals you want people to reach that they can’t reach with the status quo – that challenges them to experiment. Have goals about the number of mistakes made as well as the successes reached.
  • Reward/celebrate effort and success. Maybe you are rewarding and celebrating success (if not, it is time to start); but chances are you aren’t focused enough on recognizing and rewarding effort. Experimentation takes effort, that won’t always yield the desired results. Reward both effort and success.
  • Look for lemonade. Experiments may not get us what we wanted; yet there are many stories of experiments creating great opportunities, even if it didn’t lead where it was planned. (Need an example? Read the history of the post-it note.) Ask this question regularly – What else can we learn from or what can we use from this (failed?) experiment?

You are a leader and so you need your team or organization to grow, develop and get better. That doesn’t always happen immediately or in a straight line. Give people the chance to experiment their way to success. Expect it of them, and while there will be bumps, the road will lead closer and closer to your ultimate destination.