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Rewarding Risk, It’s a Must Do

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Why do we not reward unsuccessful risk? Strange question, right? We constantly encourage our Airmen to take risk, tell them it’s ok to fail, to look for new ways to do things, and to challenge the status quo; so why is it strange for us to hear “reward unsuccessful risk-taking?”

The current fiscal environment, at best, is unpredictable with yet another sequester looming. These budgetary actions endanger our readiness, limit our ability to modernize the fleet, and have long lasting effects on our infrastructure.

Every Airman must understand the impacts and realize that today’s innovation and modernization is critical to tomorrow’s readiness. Also, as an Air Force and as leaders, we must continue to invite our Airmen to take risks and find additional cost effective ways of doing business; this must become our new normal.

When I took command last year, I challenged the 20th Comptroller Squadron to do two things. First, to look for smarter, more effective ways to do financial management and second, to challenge the status quo; better said, I challenged them to take risks.

Through the amazing drive and dedication of my comptroller Airmen, albeit uncomfortable at times, they did just that. I watch them take calculated risks to improve processes making their squadron and your 20th Fighter Wing better!

Some actions worked, some not so much; however, I never got in the way of their initiatives, in fact; I supported, then rewarded them. Without the environment of ingenuity, moving an organization forward does not happen.

In an article a few weeks ago, Lt. Col. Casey Crabill, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron commander, stated “comfort is the archenemy of growth” and mentioned that sometimes we all need a nudge, or even a healthy PUSH to venture outside our comfort zones.

I am fortunate to have such a great team who is comfortable being uncomfortable, and the use of positive reinforcement has only enhanced their motivational efforts. What method do you use?

It has been my experience that rewarding risks, even when the desired outcome is not achieved, is just as important as rewarding a successful risk. If we all think back, I’m sure we could find a moment where we had an opportunity to reward unsuccessful risk taking; however, we chose not to or worse, counseled or reprimanded someone for it.

Think of the follow-on ideas and all the opportunities, we potentially missed out on. I’m not saying to just relinquish your risk meter altogether, because there is definitely a time and place where risk taking cannot be tolerated, especially when affecting life, health, or safety. The challenge is finding the time and place where taking risk is acceptable and needed.

Getting Airmen involved in solutions at all levels and rewarding their actions, good or bad, builds strong independent thinking Airmen which can transform organizations into highly effective units. I think Gottfried Keller sums it up best, “we don’t remain good, if we don’t always strive to become better.” Reward your risk takers and watch innovation soar!