Fail or pay: PBS’ success formula

Fail or pay: PBS’ success formula

PBS Digital demanded failure from each and every employee or they would be downgraded a post by its head of digital, Jason Seiken, on Harvard Business Review has reported.

“The story of our decision to create and embrace a failure metric begins, as do many business advances, with desperation. By 2007, audience growth had stalled and the product pipeline was dry. Worse, the digital team was paralyzed by a deeply engrained culture of caution. Its top two priorities — a redesign of and a new video player — had churned on for two years with little to show except a thick binder of product requirements from key constituents,” the article says.

“So when I joined the company in December 2006, I decided to deliver a shock to the system. Soon after arriving at PBS, I called the digital team into a conference room and announced we were ripping up everyone’s annual performance goals and adding a new metric.


“With a twist: “If you don’t fail enough times during the coming year,” I told every staffer, “you’ll be downgraded.”

“Because if you’re not failing enough, you’re playing it safe.

“The idea was to deliver a clear message: Move fast. Iterate fast. Be entrepreneurial. Don’t be afraid that if you stretch and sprint you might break things. Executive leadership has your back.”

Despite teething problems of its own in how to implement a failure metric, the idea was a stunning success, with the culture changing from safe to nimble and a subsequent explosion in traffic and engagment. The full article can be found here.

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