Things go wrong wherever people work. But is it a good idea to let your followers followers about past failures? A team of researchers from Germany and the UK found a surprising answer to this question.

The researchers collaborated with an advertising agency that organized a mailing campaign for a charity. The aim of the campaign was to recruit volunteers for the charity. 12,500 letters were sent out for that purpose. Less than 0.1 percent of the recipients signing up as volunteers, and the campaign was considered to be a great failure.

The failed direct-mail campaign was followed up with a phone campaign, again with the goal of recruiting new volunteers. This time, the calls were made by two groups of workers, but only one group was informed about the previously unsuccessful mail campaign.

Knowing about prior failure improves productivity

The researchers observed that those who were informed about the prior failure were much more productive (making a lot more phone calls) and effective (with more completed interviews with potential volunteers) than their colleagues who did not know about the failed mail campaign.

A second field experiment and an online survey confirmed the results, leading the researchers to conclude that “information about past failure is unlikely to have a negative impact on work performance, and might even lead to performance improvement.”

Key takeaway for smart leaders

  • Informing your team members about past failures can improve their motivation and performance.
Research reference: This blogpost is based on the findings of the following research study: Jeworrek, S., Mertins, V., & Vlassopoulos, M. (2021). “The good news about bad news”: Information about past organizational failure and its impact on worker productivity. The Leadership Quarterly,

Illustration: © Eva Kobin

Write A Comment