Why risk-taking should always be rewarded

Posted on May 28, 2020

James and James secured £11m funding from LDC earlier this year

Taking risks keeps entrepreneurial spirit alive and benefits from staff who are dynamic and motivated, says James Hyde, CEO of James and James

The current global pandemic has brought about seismic change for businesses with many having to rip up or rewrite their operational rule book to ensure they survive these unprecedented times.

Although much emphasis is being placed on business resilience, leaders should not neglect their entrepreneurial spirit or lose sight of the rewards and benefits that can be realised from taking risks.

Characterising risk

The main types of risk are two-fold. There is the classic ‘let’s just go for it’ risk which will be more prevalent in those entrepreneurs that are building a brand-new business. Then there is the idea of continuous risk where entrepreneurs look to make small changes to a business process but may not necessarily bet the company on it.

The sheer speed of change within today’s society means that companies who do not embed either of these types of risk into their core ethos and culture are unlikely to survive.

To quote Facebook’s Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg: ‘The biggest risk is not taking any risk.’ Constant experimentation and process iteration are both fundamental to reducing risk.

But how do you ensure you get the balance right – empowering entrepreneurial spirit amongst your employees whilst avoiding unnecessary and reckless risk taking?

Ultimately, it is about providing continuous support and setting expectations. If you were to say to every employee, ‘do what you like and be as reckless as you want’, then of course, it would be a recipe for disaster.

However, if you do not create a working environment and instil a business culture that allows people to grow through potential failure and risk, then you paralyse any growth in the future. Offering support and enabling open dialogue will provide employees with the confidence to freely discuss their creative ideas for improvement and ensure that the risks are well understood.

Challenging convention

Challenging the norm, exploring new ideas and never settling for the way something has always been done should form part of a company’s growth strategy – otherwise they will simply stand still or in some cases, regress.

You should challenge yourself with ambitious targets and achieve them through clear communication and open feedback.

A key strand to our own core values is thinking big and creating processes and solutions that scale with us and our customers.

Although we document and systemise tasks, we never take those processes for granted. We are always questioning and evolving them, creating scalable solutions that deliver a competitive edge. It is all about challenging convention and providing an open and transparent channel for employees to share and explore ideas.

It is why we developed an Innovation Fund, where £5,000 is made available for employees to carry out their own improvements to the business. This is subject to answering several questions that are structured to help them think through their idea in detail – effectively, creating a one-page business plan.

This has led to several ideas coming to life including our Innovation Lodge – the idea for which came from one of our fulfilment centre managers, Darren Newman.

Darren comments: “The work that we do requires us to bring in temporary workers to effectively manage seasonal peaks and so, I had a vision of creating a room which would become a mini version of our fulfilment centre. By spending a day in the Innovation Lodge, temporary staff are taken through the various processes and can experience the environment in which they will be working in a hands-on and practical way. As a result, we improved the quality of work and retention rates for temporary staff, as we were able to filter out lower performers before they even got inside the fulfilment centre.”

Drawing on some of our core values, we are also looking to introduce more initiatives in the future including awards such as ‘Dare to be different’, idea challenges, and dedicated ‘Challenge and Create’ events.

We have ambitious growth targets over the next three years, where we want to double headcount and triple turnover therefore, so we have got to keep moving. Innovation and an ability to take calculated risks plays an integral part in helping us to achieve those targets.

At the core of this is staff that are motivated, agile and thrive on the entrepreneurial spirit that starts at the top and runs throughout the business.

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