- Companies need employees who are willing to take risks in order to achieve great outcomes, and to support those employees in taking those risks.
- Risk-takers have higher levels of curiosity than the risk-averse and believe in limitless possibilities.
- Companies thrive with a mixture of risk-takers and risk-averse employees, with appropriate support for both types.
Does taking risks scare you? To an extent, maybe it should – fear is a built-in mechanism warning our bodies that something may not be right. On the other hand, what if this mechanism was just another obstacle to hurdle on the path to success?
In recent years, companies have been gravitating away from the head-down direction-takers and, instead, are moving toward those willing to take matters into their own hands. While it may cause CEOs and leaders to step out of their comfort zones, here are three reasons why your company should be embracing the risk-takers these days.
"Companies need fire starters – the people willing to ignite a different kind of conversation," an executive with an S&P 500 company recently said to me. To his point, he's referring to employees who are willing to avoid the normal courses of action to arrive at a new way of thinking and success. Those confined to standard methods will hardly see the same growth as those willing to think and operate outside the box.
The risk-takers within a company offer another advantage necessary for growth and continued success: creativity. With the rush of millennial employees to the workforce, creativity is being expressed through nontraditional techniques as the most tech-savvy generation paves the way. The surge of tech-savvy and skilled team members is helping to tap into a new outlet for those in various company departments, such as marketing and design.
High-achieving team players
For those who associate an adventurous employee with poor decision-making and an inability to work as a team, you may be pleasantly surprised: The freedom created from that type of culture helps people to be either team players or mavericks – and both are beneficial for the company. Sometimes the employees break into teams working toward a common goal, and sometimes it's a singular effort on the part of an employee who has a vision and runs with it.
What constitutes a risk-taker?
Since Merriam-Webster defines risk-taking as "the act or fact of doing something that involves danger or risk in order to achieve a goal," the risk-taker is the person who takes the risk in order to achieve the goal. According to study.com, in business, the risk-taker "is someone who risks everything in the hope of achievement or accepts greater potential for loss in decisions and tolerates uncertainty."
According to research conducted by innovator and consultant Deborah Piscione, in her book Risk Factors, risk-takers
- Refuse to accept the status quo
- Are in touch with a much greater purpose in life
- Focus on products, services and ideas that emphasize value creation above all else
- Value talented people and understand how and when to collaborate with them
- Can effectively execute an innovative idea, whether they do it themselves or delegate to a small team of others
- Can scale their innovation to a level that can affect others
Piscione also risk-takers are incredibly curious about how things work, that they hate losing even more than they love winning, and they believe anything is possible.
Even the leadership teams take their cues at times from the risk-takers in the company, understanding that there are times to support from above and times to follow from behind. It's an often-overlooked quality of management to truly recognize the momentum of an employee and allow the space to let what is happening evolve.
How to manage a risk-taker
Employees need to know that they are supported in their risky ventures. Management can provide a safety net by promoting the behavior they want the employees to exhibit through their own actions.
- Modeling. If employees see management taking chances, they will gain comfort in their own ventures.
- Enabling. Provide the tools and information that employees need to make the right decisions.
- Support. Managers need to provide support through words and actions.
- Consistency. People are confused when support wavers, so managers need to stay strong, even when risky decisions don't always have a positive outcome.
When Jim Donald took over as CEO of Extended Stay America, the company was just emerging from bankruptcy, and employees were nervous about their job security. He famously encouraged risk-taking by handing out thousands of "get out of jail free" cards that his staff could redeem by handing it over when they took a risk on behalf of the company – no questions asked.
Maureen Boyt, founder of the Moxie Exchange, suggests taking a straightforward approach toward failure as part of the natural course of business that will help employees develop a level of comfort with the possibility of failing. She suggests planning for worst-case scenarios, having a "biggest failure" party, and being honest about your own failures as ways to encourage acceptance of potential lack of success.
For every risk-taker hired, inevitably, there will be others who do not share that adventurous spirit – and that's exactly as it should be. Ultimately, it's about creating a culture rich with balance and acceptance for employees who bring their own individual skill sets and strengths to the table – and the results that come from each of them.