Encouraging Employees to Take Risks

January 18, 2023
Encouraging Employees to Take Risks
No risk, no reward. It’s a saying many of the most successful people live by. Opportunity may present itself, or it may be the result of out-of-the-box thinking, but innovation begins with risk. For business leaders, encouraging employees to take smart, calculated risks may be the road to future success. Few (if any) inventions were perfected on the first try. An idea becomes a process or a product which is honed and improved. It starts with the willingness to risk time and resources. From the smallest company to the largest, there’s always room for growth. Starbucks recently announced a nearly half billion dollar investment revamping their stores. The move will make it more efficient for baristas to get you that cold brew — about a minute faster— among other changes. John Culver, the chain’s CEO recently said, “It’s clear that our physical stores have to change. Our physical stores were built for a different era.” Every company benefits from innovation, and that may mean taking risks. When employees are comfortable enough to make mistakes without fear of reprisal, they’re more apt to take risks. The most innovative companies create a culture where risk-taking is encouraged and celebrated and mistakes are lessons learned and built upon. Like mold on bread sparking the discovery of penicillin, the smallest mistake could lead to the biggest innovation. Empowering employees to take risks benefits the company and the staff. It opens up possibilities instead of churning out the status quo. To reach higher with your business, it may be time to step out of everyone’s comfort zone.

What are the benefits of encouraging workers to take risks?

Workers and business benefit when companies shed their risk-aversion. Stagnation in the marketplace may mean loss: there’s always someone willing to do it better, faster, or cheaper. Without an eye for the future, and the risks it may take to get there, organizations are treading water. When they’re open to possibilities, growth can occur. Encouraging  employees to take risks empowers them in several ways.

Being heard

Allowing employees to take risks messages you’re excited to listen to their views and suggestions. Active listening may be a lost art, but it’s one that’s appreciated by all levels of staff. Giving employees a voice in what they do and how they do it shows value is placed on them. Employees may suggest ideas that have been tried in the past but failed. Rather than a ‘we tried that’ response, give a bit more detail on why it didn’t work. They may learn something about their job, or have a new spin on an old problem that just might work perfectly. You may not agree to every suggestion posed, but encourage them to keep brainstorming and try again soon.


From idea formation to final product or process, there’s ownership (and pride) to be had in taking a risk, seeing it evolve, and hopefully succeeding. Every company wants their employees to take ownership in their work.
The chance to take risks provides a sense of proprietorship: that boosts engagement and productivity.
One of the best ways to do that is to allow them to consider the company their own. How would they do it if they signed the paychecks? The chance to take risks provides a sense of proprietorship: that boosts engagement and productivity.

Drives growth

Doesn’t have to be the next new, clean energy source — updating processes is a risk too. No one knows better how to execute their work than the worker executing the work. If they are enabled to look at how they’re doing something and figure out a way to do it better, the entire organization may benefit. Risk-taking drives growth for the employee as well as the business. The more risks they take that succeed, the more they’ll try new things and develop.

How can employers create a risk-positive culture?

Encouraging risk-taking in the workplace doesn’t mean turning your company into a free-for-all. Risks need to be thought-out, safe, and calculated. That can’t happen if you don’t have a culture that’s ready to listen and experiment. These are some of the tools needed for a risk-willing environment.

Create a safe place

Acknowledging staff and communicating how eager you are to hear ideas and try suggestions is the first step. Follow that with your willingness to try things and fail. When organizations are willing to take risks, so can staff. When you set the ground rules that you don’t anticipate every idea will succeed, and no punishment will occur if it doesn’t, employees will come forward with suggestions. We boast about our successes at the corporate level, but we’re unwilling to talk about our failures. If you’ve taken a chance on something recently that didn’t pan out, communicate it to employees. Show them you were willing to try something and willing to accept it wasn’t the right solution. Let them know that failure won’t stop you from trying something else: it provided insight and potentially new avenues to explore. The safe space you create could be where innovation and improvements take hold.

Encourage ideas

From the C-suite down, build a curiosity mindset. Whenever you encounter a challenge, actively seek out suggestions on how to manage or correct it. Don’t just jump in with solutions (even if you have them): let your team or employee work it out. The smallest encouragement, to even the most junior-level staff member, could start the wheels of thought churning. Who knows where they will end up. As a company, communicate widely and routinely that you’re always interested in ideas. From the most mundane processes to the ‘next big thing,’ ideas are what drive success. If there’s something in your company where employees are consistently saying ‘there has to be a better way,’ start there. Sit down and talk about options. As you work through the issue, you’ll open the door to further suggestions and risk-taking.

Start small

A minor change can mean big results. You don’t have to spend half a billion dollars: acknowledging the cream should be nearer the sugar is a small change that nets rewards. Start with small ideas, then build. The more success they have with small innovations, the more willing they’ll be to consider larger ones. There’s a huge bonus for business when you encourage risk-taking. Leaders will identify which employees are especially detail-oriented; which are big thinkers, and who to seek out when they’re out of ideas.

Set parameters

Empowering employees to take risks doesn’t mean allowing them to dismantle machinery and rebuild it. There have to be reasonable controls. Ask employees to share their ideas before they execute, and have a manager approve it and work with them to try it out. There may be glitches along the way that 2 sets of eyes can better address. There may be lessons to learn with the experiment. Or it may be a wild success that needs company-wide kudos. No employee should go it alone. They should ask for approval and help, particularly with risks that could pose a physical danger.

Lead by example

Good leaders are willing to get in and do it themselves: great leaders are willing to fail in front of staff. If you’re not willing to take a risk, why should they? Take risks openly, even communicating to staff that you’re planning to try something new. Invite feedback on whether it worked or is worth doing more of. The example you set either encourages innovation from your team, or puts their (potentially) great ideas on the back burner.

Embrace failure

When things don’t go to plan (and they often don’t), analyze the failure with an eye to the future. Debrief the team and decide whether to adapt or abandon. A good idea doesn’t have to go out the window if it didn’t execute perfectly the first time. Reassess where it went off the rails and how it could get back on track. Initial steps rarely go directly to the finish line. Follow the divergent steps for ideas and successes.

Bounce back from failures and move forward

The best risk-takers bounce back quickly from failure. They don’t hide it, they learn from it, discuss, and develop. Rewarding innovative thinking, regardless of the outcome, is critical to growth and success. If you’re willing to take risks, and allow your staff to do so, the possibilities are limitless.

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