Google HR boss says managers spend just as much time talking about failure as they do about future success

Laszlo bockBloomberg/GettyLaszlo Bock.

Google is known for encouraging employees to set stretch goals, and for expecting that they might not always get all the way there.

At the same time, managers don’t simply accept failure and move on. In fact, they spend as much time discussing projects that went wrong as they do talking about successful initiatives.

That’s according to Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations. Bock recently spoke with Kris Duggan, CEO of Betterworks, about the way goal-setting works at Google.

“We spend probably an equal amount of time actually talking about failure” and planning for future success, Bock said of managers’ conversations with employees.

Bock cited Jeff Huber, former SVP of Google X: “He spends 50% of his staff meeting on what failed last week and what did we learn from it? So by making conversation about misses normal, you end up actually driving lots of improvement in the organisation.”

Linda Hill, a professor at Harvard Business School, has voiced support for this strategy of addressing failures head-on.

As she told The Harvard Business Review, “Hold people accountable. You can’t say, ‘Gee, that’s too bad.’ You need to figure out what went wrong and why.”

At the same time, Hill said leaders shouldn’t dwell on their team’s mistakes: “Do the diagnosis, get the learning, and move on,” she told The Harvard Business Review.

Whether you’re working at Google or elsewhere, the point is that you shouldn’t shy away from talking about employees’ failures. If you address them in a way that’s constructive, it will be an experience everyone learns and grows from.

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