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Want to Support Marketing Growth? Encourage Learning from Mistakes

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Let’s face it: Content marketing mistakes are going to happen.

We’re operating in a business space that demands a lot from people in return for marketing growth. We’re supposed to be technical and strategic workers, while simultaneously acting as founts of creative insight and wisdom. Between hard deadlines and fast production schedules, the occasional mishap, miscalculation, or misconception is bound to happen.

So what do you do about it?

Many traditional business structures place the impetus on employees to avoid mistakes at all cost. Managers are taught to be watchful and candid, even disciplinary, when needed. Marketers are taught to aim for perfection, to be mindful of the quarterly review, and to stay “on brand” in every sense of the term. This set-up can produce very consistent content. It can also make your brand slow to develop or change.

If you want a content marketing team that’s willing to take risks, innovate, and push the boundaries of how they approach content strategy, you may need to reframe the way your organization responds to mistakes—and even find a way to embrace them.

The Three Types of Mistakes

One of the fundamental ideas of a mistake-friendly content team is that not all mistakes are created equal.

In fact, most errors can be classified into three buckets:

  • Intentional Risk: An employee sets out to try something new with the foreknowledge that it might not work.
  • Optimistic Confidence: An employee sets out to accomplish a task, thinking they’ve done everything necessary to do it well, and discovers they’ve missed something along the way.
  • Avoidable Error: An employee fails to accomplish a task due to willfully ignoring set protocol, clearly stated direction, or obvious resources.

Intentional risk and optimistic confidence are both healthy content marketing mistakes for a team to embrace. Intentional risks are powerful ways to discover new ideas, practices, or tools that can change and improve your business over time. Optimistic confidence can quickly reveal opportunities for further training, better documentation, or professional development. In either case, what damage is done by the mistake is typically outweighed by the growth that stems from that mistake.

But too often, we treat any mishap at work as an avoidable error. In the event of a true error, some form of advising or discipline is likely warranted—specifically because it is willful, careless, and doesn’t provide any benefit for your business. But treating a non-error with the same measure of discipline can quickly lead to teams that are hesitant to stretch outside of their comfort zone for fear of being reprimanded.

marketing risk taking

Image attribution: Alex Radelich

Understanding Psychological Safety

Managers need to achieve a careful balance when it comes to nurturing healthy mistakes. On one hand, you must ensure a quality of work and productivity within your team, while on the other, you don’t want your team members to be afraid to take risks. How do you accomplish this? Over the past few years, management professionals have challenged the idea that competitiveness within a team is healthy. Instead, they have begun seeking out ways to encourage safe, collaborative spaces for their team members to work.

This is where psychological safety comes into play. At its core, it is a measure of how comfortable your team is with expressing their ideas, concerns, challenges, and successes. An office with low psychological safety might see many employees quietly working, never challenging established processes, or trying to hide mistakes for fear of repercussions. Alternatively, offices with a high measure of psychological safety might see public conversations to tackle challenges and mishaps, team members who are willing to voice ideas, and a reduction in workplace-related apathy or anxiety.

The effects of a psychologically safe workplace are also rather astounding. A 2017 Gallup poll found that offices where workers self-identified as feeling psychologically safe had 27 percent less turnover and were 12 percent more productive than non-safe offices.

Moving your content team towards psychological safety—and in turn, healthier mistakes—doesn’t have to be difficult. But much of the work has to come from leadership if it’s going to permeate your organization. These key management elements will set your team up for psychologically safe mistake-making:

Set Clear Expectations

It is much easier for your team to perform, brainstorm, and seek creative solutions for success if they know what their aim is. Shifting priorities and moving goal posts on expectations can create a sense of uncertainty that stifles innovative efforts. Try to set clear goals, expectations, and time frames so that your team knows the bounds of their work.

Protect Ideas

If you want team members to express and try new ideas, they need to feel safe doing so. Make an effort to guide conversations in constructive directions to prevent team members from putting each other down. Give due credit for ideas to their originators. Most importantly, don’t punish or embarrass people for ideas that miss the mark. Seek to understand why an idea fell short, and work with team members to develop from that point.

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Embrace the “Postmortem”

It might be impossible to find a content marketing project that has ever gone exactly to plan. Setting aside regular time for your team to collect and review outcomes of your projects is a powerful way to generate ideas, while also encouraging healthy growth.

learning from risk taking

Image attribution: Sonja Guina

The Result: Marketing Growth

Teams that speak openly, take risks, and generally feel comfortable at work are a management dream. Understanding the different types of workplace mistakes makes it easy to distinguish between true problems and opportunities for growth. Providing forums for reviewing projects candidly allows you to stop bad practices before they become bad habits and encourages iteration that leads to better content in the future.

All it takes is for managers to step up and protect voices and ideas. This can be hard at first. It requires a measure of vulnerability and the responsibility of leading by example. But once employees at all levels acclimate to this new way of operating, the landscape for content marketing innovation—mistakes very much included—becomes very, very open.

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Featured image attribution: Candice Picard

Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?

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