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By The Numbers

Workplace Survey, Findings

1.Workers are struggling to work effectively. 

When focus is compromised in pursuit of Collaboration, neither works well.

2. Effective workplaces balance focus and collaboration. 

Workplaces designed to enable collaboration without sacrificing employees’ ability to focus are more successful.

3. Choice drives performance and innovation. 

Employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work are seen as more innovative and have higher-performing employees.


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We all need to make mistakes to succeed.  Robert Glazer, an author and entrepreneur, says that "the goal should be to learn from them and move forward, without repeating them. A company whose employees are constantly afraid of failing will only create subpar performance and significant problems in the future."

For an example of what happens when employees aren't free to fail, look no further than Volkswagen's 2017 diesel engine debacle. According to many company executives, former CEO Martin Winterkorn was demanding and authoritarian and abhorred failure; he also fostered a climate of fear.

A key part of Volkswagen's aggressive growth strategy was a new diesel engine that would deliver low emissions and high efficiency, an ambitious goal. The problem was that, as the engine came into production, it didn't meet the goals Winterkorn had publicly stated it would. Too afraid to bring this failure to their boss, the engineers used their collective ingenuity to cover up the problem, leading to billions of dollars in losses and damage to the brand.


What happened? While Volkswagen, has had a major push to sell diesel cars in the US, backed by a huge marketing campaign trumpeting its cars' low emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that many VW cars being sold in America had a "defeat device" - or software - in diesel engines that could detect when they were being tested, changing the performance accordingly to improve results. The EPA's findings cover 482,000 cars in the US only, including the VW-manufactured Audi A3, and the VW models Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat. At the end, Volkswagen has admitted that about 11 million cars worldwide, including eight million in Europe, are fitted with the so-called "defeat device".

"During tumultuous economic times, such as what we're currently facing, employees are more afraid than ever to make mistakes or pre-emptively report potential problems", says Glazer, "while they aren't aiming to deceive company leadership, employees may decide to avoid bringing mistakes to their superiors' attention, in hopes that the problem can be solved without anybody knowing about it" Glazer points.

In an environment where nobody wants to have their mistakes spotlighted in an era marked by economic recession and layoffs, leaders have to anticipate this fear and encourage the opposite: creating a culture where mistakes and failure are considered part of business, and instead pushing employees to be honest about their shortcomings and learn from them.

In his book "Principles", Ray Dalio, a hedge fund manager, philanthropist and author, speaks about an expensive oversight that an employee made at his hedge fund and his decision not to fire the person. Ray believed that firing the employee would encourage others to conceal their mistakes out of fear. Instead, Ray used the experience to create an "issue log" where all mistakes were reported, and logged company-wide so others could learn from them. Now, making mistakes is not a fireable offense. However, failing to report a mistake is.

"The concept of failure is a nuanced one with many cultural implications. But ask any successful person and they'll tell you how failure and learning from it contributed to their success. Sadly, so many leaders today are robbing their teams of this valuable experience" says Glazer. "Even in parenting, we see same principle constant: Overprotecting parents may be well-intentioned, but they are grossly overreaching. Because they can't handle seeing their kids truly fail at something, they interfere in every area of their lives."

Leaders shouldn't be using this strategy in their organizations. Instead, they should give their employees the psychological safety to make mistake, and instead focus on helping the organization learn from these mistakes. "I strongly believe that this explicit and implicit discouragement of failure poses a serious and growing threat for the development of an entire generation. And I'm clearly not the only one." concludes Glazer.