By Gail Gumminger

A quick reminder, failure is inevitable and most of us have an emotional reaction to the thought of failing at something. It’s real.

Yet, we know that 70% of all change initiatives fail. So how do we fail-forward and stay upright?

A great place to start is defining failure. What does it mean to you and/or your team to fail? Write it down. Does it mean being passed over for that prized job opening or promotion? Maybe it involves coming up short on our personal or team goals? Does it mean receiving an “average” overall annual performance rating? Does it mean going mistake-free for a defined period of time? There is a good chance that failure is defined differently for all of us. Being conscious of our own fear of failure and drivers is important.

Next, after you have defined it for yourself and your team, ask a few more questions:

  • What is the worst that can happen if I fail or if my team fails? 
  • How can I re-frame my failure lens? 
  • What might be the silver lining in a perceived failure? 
  • What might I take forward for next time?

From here we can begin to explore a critical fail-forward strategy which is to establish supportive culture for yourself and within your team and/or organization. There are four aspects to consider for establishing a fail-forward culture.

  1. Innovation and experimentation. We will need a safe environment to fail-forward. If the environment is perceived as unsafe or rigid, there is a good chance we will not try new ways of doing things or invest our intellectual capacity in creative problem-solving. When we want our teams to be creative and innovative, we have to allow room for experimentation and mistakes. In most cases, new innovations are born out of failures that happened along the way.
  2. Growth mindset. The growth mindset is all about perspective and how we view and internalize the situations and experiences that life throws at us. It focuses entirely on the progress that might occur as a result of any situation. The growth mindset is the belief that no failure is permanent if we can learn from it. If we decide that failure will define us, then it will. But if we focus on learning and getting better each time, then a failure instead becomes a learning experience. Adopting the basic mindset of growth when taking on a difficult situation can have a major positive impact.
  3. Process improvement. Many times, we find old and outdated processes in place that no longer serve us and our current situations. We often resist the notion of making necessary changes to the way we do things because we have always done it this way. However, building in process improvement practices helps remove the personal bias and attachment that can hold us back.
  4. Use of technology. It is critical to understand and navigate failure as soon as possible. Appropriate use of technology can provide timely feedback and measurement, demonstrate success, and capture adjustments made, calculate risk, and finally, communicate necessary information needed to avoid failure or to recover and move forward through failure. Your words are important in messaging, collaborating, or directing yourself and your team out of a failed effort. Be clear and communicate often. Avoid negativity. 

There is grace and humility involved in navigating our failures and missteps. And in the end, failure can be our best teacher. Be mindful in managing your fail-forward approach. By offering clear parameters for taking calculated risks and trying new things, you empower your team and organization to fail-forward and embrace innovation.

If you find you could use support in any aspect of planning, transition, or change, we’d love to talk with you. We have helped many of our clients work through challenges and walk the path to greater personal and organizational success, we’d love to help you too. Contact us for a complimentary consultation at or call us at 970-279-3330.

Our mission is to give voice and action to an emerging future. As a partner in your success, we would love to come alongside you to help you find your voice, see your vision, and imagine what the right action could be for you, your team, and your organization.