It came as a surprise to many of our members that a risk taking culture doesn’t just motivate people but is the joint top force for improving performance. This is the conclusion of a major piece of research carried out by the Corporate Leadership Council of 19,000 employees. They highlighted of 106 activities leaders/managers do to gain better results, just 9 have a substantially positive impact, 6 actually have a negative consequence and the rest are largely just noise to most employees. And joint top of the 9 is “having a risk taking culture”.
Now some people react to this insight with incredulity – surely a risk taking culture could result in business failure, and of course it might, however complacency has killed many more companies – I cite Kodak, Woolworth, Blockbuster, HMV, the British Shoe Corporation (Dolcis, Saxone, Freeman Hardy Willis), Nokia, Blackberry to name but a few of the better known ones to either disappear or be in terminal decline as a consequence of failing to adapt and develop, of failing to take appropriate risk.
And whilst there is a much quoted view that people don’t like change the reality is, I believe, they actually fear lack of change even more. If you don’t believe me then try this out: ask all your employees, “how would it look and feel to be doing exactly the same job in 3 years time?” I’m certain, based on my own research, that the majority would be horrified at this prospect – (note, those who welcome the idea should be on your “watch list” straight away!). The key is for the changes, and the risk associated with them, to come from the team and not from the hierarchy but with the encouragement and support from those at the top.
Ten years ago I took 14 directors and managers from Romans away to La Manga Club for 4 days with a brief from the owners that “anything goes”. The first day was largely invested getting them into the best state to be able to express themselves openly and without fear of consequence for offering “silly” ideas or those believed to be out of line with company thinking.
Having got them into the right frame of mind I was then able to input the idea that “anything goes” and by the end of the week we had over 200 ideas for improvement and change which were categorised into A. “Just Do It”, B. “Let’s work on it” and C. “Park it for now but revisit once A. & B. are complete”. As the ideas had come from the team they had ownership and over the course of the next 12 months they were all implemented or modified and implemented, resulting in a significant change of direction and more significantly a change of culture for this already excellent business. Next month we return to La Manga for a fourth time to repeat the process, again with a clean sheet of paper and a mindset free of fear but full of possibility.
Many of the companies people admire – Virgin, Google, Apple, Romans, etc. are those that have a risk taking culture, yet despite this, many of these same admirers do the exact opposite with their businesses. It’s time for a change, and that change begins with a preparedness to take a risk.