TAG Consulting

Five Ways To Create A Risk-Taking Culture

March 29, 2016

Our work with clients as well as our research has taught us that organizations that have a high tolerance for risk have the healthiest cultures and are usually the most successful in terms of results.

What we have discovered is that it’s not enough just to tolerate risk. To use a baseball metaphor, great organizations actively seek out risks and instead of hoping for a single encourage their team members to swing for the fences!


Now, this doesn’t mean that great organizations will roll the dice without a reasonable chance of being successful or without doing their due diligence. But it does mean that their appetite for risk is such that their less successful competitors tend to look at them and think “What are they thinking? That will never work!”

Here are five ways you can increase your tolerance for risk and encourage a culture of experimentation:

1. Start by taking a number of small risks rather than one big one. If you’re not sure that your culture (or your own stomach!) can take an enterprise-gambling risk, take a few smaller ones that will ‘hurt’ a bit if they don’t pay off but won’t threaten the organization’s viability. Over time, you will learn more about your core competencies, your own appetite for risk, and where an educated gamble might pay off for your organization.

2. Support the natural risk-takers on your team.
When you assign a risky project or experiment, make sure you clear some things off the plate of those responsible so that they can focus. When their plans appear to be faltering, support them verbally and supply any needed resources. Praise them in front of other team members and tell their stories.

3. Build risk-taking into your compensation and rewards system.
Nothing communicates a culture of experimentation more than honoring successful risks and even praising and rewarding worthy risks that may not have yet panned out.

4. Make sure that the risks you take are around issues you and your team care deeply about.
It’s one thing to take a flier. It’s quite another to take a risk that, if it pays off, will advance your organization’s mission or live out the values you hold together.

5. Make sure that you build in ways to glean lessons from your experiments.
Have the whole team debrief a risk-taking project, both midstream and at its conclusion. The goal of this public debrief is not to scapegoat or shift blame when a risk has not paid off. It’s to tell the story of the adventure of the experiment, honor those who put themselves on the line, and craft takeaways for what you can do better next time. It’s important for a healthy culture to be a learning organization – all the more important that you learn from your experiments so you can consolidate gains and avoid future pitfalls.

How about you? What have been your most fruitful risks? Where can you initiate some new experiments in your personal life or in your organization?

Organizations Learn Too

January 5, 2016

This is the third in a series on the four characteristics of trustworthy organizational cultures that our research revealed:

  1. Dependability
  2. Communication
  3. Learning
  4. Integrity

Put together, these characteristics lead unfailingly to employee engagement!

Today, Learning!

learn circle

There has been lots of talk about “learning organizations” for years now, but precious little clarity.  We’ve found that a learning organization sets up systems, processes and structures that insure best practices and, as a result, create engaged employees.

We’ve discovered that systems must be in place for four specific behaviors.

First is appropriate risk. Engaged employees tell us that they feel that they are given permission to take chances in their work. Mistakes made in good faith are not punished or made a part of partisan office politics – they are treated as a learning experience. Many of the engaged employees in our research cited examples of a boss or mentor who came alongside them in a time of failure, acknowledged the failure, but also offered perspective and a second chance. This built confidence and resulted in a fertile ground for innovation.

Second is problem-solving. Some people enjoy setting goals and accomplishing them. Others enjoy solving problems. Most of us excel in one or the other. Problem-solvers are not generally glamour-getters. As a matter of fact, they are often written off as naysayers or overly cautious. In fact, this is just the problem-solving brain at work anticipating challenges and kicking into gear.

Leaders who are crafting winning cultures look for this trait and make sure that every layer of management is seasoned with problem-solvers who can anticipate the challenges that a compelling vision will face.

Next is initiative. Our survey told us that the most engaged employees feel as if they have a lot of room to “play” in their work. Their new ideas – even the off the wall ones – are accepted and they are given freedom to chase them down even if the immediate payoff is not always evident.

Organizations that encourage initiative don’t often voice “Stay in your lane!”.

Most often, you will hear in such organizations “Find or invent a new lane!”.

Finally, learning organizations put a premium on personal development. “I get a sense that they care about me as a person, not just a role or function” say the engaged employees we have gotten to know.

One of the easiest ways to communicate this care is by providing time and resources for team members to grow and learn in areas related not only to their work but also to their passions.

This may be paying for community college classes, offering in house retreats or seminars, or even paying for employees to take a day and explore a personal passion. Work is work but when employees are free to pursue personal passions that lead to individual development both the employee and the organization profit!

What about your organization?

Are you best described as a learning organization?

Do you have systems in place that encourage risk, problem-solving, initiative, and personal development?

What steps can you begin to take early in this year to put those systems into place?