Want a simple way to improve employee experience and motivate people to innovate? Then borrow a page from The Danbury Mint.
My very first job out of college was working for a company called The Danbury Mint in Norwalk, Connecticut. They sold high-end collectibles like plates, dolls, figurines, sports memorabilia, classic car replicas – basically stuff that you display on your desk or mantle.
I was very fortunate to have this job right after college. The company promised in a job posting that it would teach new employees everything they needed to know about marketing, and they delivered on that promise. In addition to marketing, I also learned about leadership and innovation.
There was one company policy has stuck with me for more than two decades because of its simplicity and brilliance: “You can make any mistake once.”
I thought this was so great for employee confidence and motivation because no one had to live in fear of making a mistake and getting fired. The company allowed employees to make any mistake one time.
Now, to be fair, they expected employees to learn from that mistake and not to make it again. But it instilled a feeling of confidence, willingness to try something new, and desire to be innovative. It was OK to take a calculated risk, and if you failed, you learned from it and moved on.
I’ll never forget the story of the guy who sat in the office next to mine. (I know what you’re thinking, but really, this is not a euphemism; it really was the guy next to me!).
He made a mistake in ordering some full-color brochures for a mailing that we were doing, and it was kind of a big mistake. He added a zero to the quantity. So instead of ordering one hundred thousand brochures, he ordered one million brochures. The cost of this mistake was more than he made in salary in a year.
Sure enough, our boss came by and said to him, “I trust that you’re not going to do that again.” And my friend said, “yes sir” and was very happy to keep his job.
Interestingly, he didn’t make that mistake again. That mistake was costly, but it was also educational, both for the employee who made it and to the rest of us who were thinking, “I’m glad I’m not that guy.” Naturally, we all made mistakes, and we all learned from them.
So let your employees be innovative. Let them be creative. Let them take risks, and let them make mistakes. It will improve the employee experience and inspire confidence. Just make sure that they learn from the mistakes and don’t make them again.