Master Trainer Beth Kanter, in her recent HBR blog post, introduces us to her favorite approach for making the most of a gaffe: the Failure Bow. She shares examples of the technique and its impact, which range from athletes trained to take a failure bow as a means of alleviating their fear of making mistakes to the quarterly FailFest implemented by one nonprofit where presenters share the goal, history, timing and lessons of their failure while styling an obligatory pink boa. (At the risk of reinforcing a stereotype of the compensation pro as fun-kill, however, I must admit that the idea of presenting anything to anyone wearing a pink boa sure strikes me as more punishment than reward!)
What I love about the concept of a failure bow is the effort its practitioners make to turn the failure into not just an opportunity to learn, but the chance to do so in a spirit of light-hearted acceptance.
What concerns me about it is the knowledge that many organizations and leaders will simply drop the practice in place - perhaps "customizing" it by making that feather boa a bright apple green - in a token effort to address what is a much deeper problem. Because curing a culture where problem burying is rampant, where blaming and accountability dodging are embedded characteristics and where no real competencies in processing or learning from failure have been developed, will demand much more than the staging of a failure celebration.
With all due respect to the failure bow, adopting a superficial practice meant to represent a shift in thinking, without actually shifting thinking, only serves to reduce what would otherwise be a fresh and inventive idea to mere gimmickry. Which, unhappily, happens far too often in the field of rewards ... and others.
Creative Commons image "feather boas" by JMacPherson