Windows To The World

Let People Fail

Personal mistakes are also more likely to be examined than punished. Microsoft vice president Jon DeVaan's words are echoed throughout the company: "If you fire the person who failed, you're throwing away the value of the experience."

When the product manager of Microsoft's spreadsheet software went to Bill Gates in 1984 and told him there was a major bug in the product and it would have to be recalled from retailers, Bill told him, "Well, you came in to work today and lost $250,000. Tomorrow you'll hope to do better." Today, that product manager, Jeff Raikes, is a member of Microsoft Office of the President.

There's a companywide commitment to accepting mistakes as part of the process because so many new areas are being explored. Allowing people to fail with impunity (on the right occasions) paves the way for those people to take risks again in the future. And the rest of the company, watching from the sidelines, will feel emboldened as well. They'll be more free with their ideas. They won't shy away from a project that has a chance of going under. The freedom to fail helps move the company forward.

The saying "Whenever you screw up, you get promoted" has been known to come up laughingly at Microsoft meetings.

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This article was originally published in the June 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Windows To The World.

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