Employee Engagement

How to Acknowledge Failure Like a Level-5 Leader to Improve Employee Engagement


No one likes to admit defeat. But, regardless of how unwanted, it happens. Even the most successful business people will tell you that their road to success was paved with pitfalls. In order to grow beyond your failures, you need to admit your role in the failures. When you start to create an open dialogue with your team about both the good and the bad, you become a better leader and build stronger bonds in employee engagement.

In Jim Collin’s renowned management book Good to Great, he discusses the idea of “Level 5 Leadership”, using the theory that when a manager sees success, they look “out the window” and when there is a failure, they look “in the mirror”. Meaning a “great” manager takes personal responsibility for losses and graciously thanks their team for the wins. We’ve discussed the importance of public recognition and empowering your team through digital communication and leaderboards, but we’ve yet to shed light on what to do when things go wrong.

No one on your team should wonder how or why a goal was not reached or a project was scrapped, nor should they find out indirectly, whether through industry gossip or at the proverbial water cooler.  This approach is more important than ever with more teams moving into remote or hybrid working environments. 

Don’t Hide Behind a Loss

In the same way your business employs communication technology to share the good stuff, you can communicate the bad in an inclusive and impactful way. Not sharing the possibility or reality of a failure actually produces more anxiety, uncertainty, and disengagement among your team than open communication does. According to Tony Groom, Chief Executive of K2 Business Partners, “More communication rather than a minimal level is required to reassure stakeholders and this is likely to involve clear communication about the rectification process and who is responsible.”

Using alerts for regular communication to your company is a healthy way to open dialogue and increase employee engagement.  Deal Alerts can either be used to communicate announcements or OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) through key metrics tracked on leaderboards. Deal alerts can also be set up to stream directly into a Slack channel, so everyone can stay up to date no matter where they are working. 

This ensures that everyone on your team receives the same information at the same time, creating a space to participate and ask questions. In order to properly acknowledge failure, managers need to make sure that they set aside time for these inquiries  and follow ups by employees. Keeping information transparent, and opening up conversations are key ways to ensure that your team is involved whether they work from the office, at home, or on the road.  By communicating directly and proactively, managers are acknowledging an issue and taking ownership of it.  

Let Your Team Win

Other companies are realizing that fewer losses—and more wins—are coming from letting their teams decide. Warby Parker, the eyewear company changing the way we see, relinquished some control from managers and gave it back to their employees when it came to decision making. The system, called Warbles, “lets employees across Warby Parker nominate programming projects.” The projects are then turned over to managers, who assign points to each project, and programmers, who choose which project most interests them.

The same type of problem solving can be incorporated into gamification technology by giving your team the power to design a solution to a problem plaguing the company, regardless of their current role or department. This process will be able to provide insight that higher level team members may not even be aware of. Adding an element of competition to determine who and how a problem will be solved increases employee engagement in the company’s success even further.  

Stuff Happens

Sometimes there are variables beyond our control. A market or housing crisis that makes consumers tighten their belts. A blackout that impacts a day of digital business.  A global pandemic. Regardless of inevitable events, in creating leaders who foster dialogue among their teams and team members who feel valued enough to share in the wins, your team will be prepared to tackle obstacles and move beyond defeat.