The clever way these CEOs keep employees accountable

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The writing’s on the wall for employees at credit reporting company Dun & Bradstreet. From floor to ceiling, employees have marked failure after failure in permanent texta. It began more than two years years ago, when CEO Jeff Stibel painted a wall with quotes about failure.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm,” booms a Winston Churchill profundity in a cursive blue font. Beside it, someone has scrawled something somewhat less pithy: an employee confesses to accidentally wiping her hard drive and having to re-start a project from the beginning.

When Stibel first established the wall, the goal was to encourage employees to learn from their failures. Naturally, it took months to eliminate any shame and reluctance to publicly write them down. But now, he says, nobody would consider it a humiliating process.

“Employees have fessed up to mistakes that cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars, and no one has gotten in trouble,” Stibel wrote in a recent blog. “As a CEO, I know it’s not the failure wall mistakes that I should be concerned about, even if they are costly. If it’s on the failure wall, the writer has acknowledged it, learned from it, and is unlikely to repeat it.”

It sounds crazy, but Stibel isn’t alone in celebrating failure. BambooHR CEO Ben Peterson has also implemented a similar strategy called an “Oops email”, where everyone learns about others’ mistakes.

“We all understand nobody would intentionally do wrong, and we expect the error only to occur once,” says Peterson. “This way, everyone feels welcome in sharing what they’ve learned from mistakes, rather than blaming or burying the error.”

And Los Angeles-based marketing company Supercool Creative has a Wall of Shame for its team of 10. Employees are encouraged to write mistakes on a post-it note to be displayed beside the rest of the team’s.

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