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June 7, 2022

Is the Fear of Failure Holding Your Organization Back?

Think about the most successful organizations. What is the one thing they all have in common? We would be willing to bet on one thing: they’re innovative. Top companies, like Apple and Alphabet, have routinely pivoted, invented and transformed through recent decades, sometimes mapping out our futures before we even knew what we wanted. All successful organizations are not failure-free; you have to try new things to move the needle. But how do they manage those trials and errors? And how can your organization follow a similar successful path that encourages innovation and responsibly allows for quick, minimal-disturbance-level failures? First, you may want to determine how your organization approaches new initiatives and ideas.

What Is Your Organization’s Failure Tolerance?

Take a temperature check to determine where you stand on the risk-adverse to “let’s-try-all-of-the-new-things” scale. Some questions to reflect on, both from your own understanding and from your team’s perspective:

  • Do we promote a culture of discovery and idea-sharing?
  • Do we often try new ideas, big or small?
  • Do we feel ahead of the curve when it comes to peer or competitor organizations?
  • Are we proactively meeting the needs of our members?
  • Are staff willing to provide regular metrics and status updates on projects?

If you find yourself answering “no” to these questions, there’s a chance your organization is afflicted with a fear of failure. There is good news: the path to a healthy risk management mindset is still achievable.

Creating a Culture that Embraces Opportunities

In order to encourage innovation, it is important to foster a collaborative culture and normalize failure. Celebrate the wins as they come and treat failure as a tool to create more future successes. Think of these following risk management tools like muscles; you will grow them over time, and they’ll become second-nature:

  • Build a culture of trust and transparency, which results in more regular status updates, honest project check-ins, and a willingness to ask for help. Staff that feel empowered to share what they know are critical to achieving success. Hold senior managers accountable, too, to ensure they are demonstrating this new culture with each other.
  • Internalize your strategic plan, so you can evaluate new (or ongoing) projects and programs against the goals included in the plan. When there is a project that doesn’t support the plan, make saying “stop” the norm.
  • Debrief regularly. For long projects, this may mean at the end of each phase. You’ll get smarter with each debrief about what’s working and be able to apply that to other projects.
  • Have systems in place that help you pivot and track progress efficiently.  The Objective and Key Result (OKR) methodology is a great tool for setting goals, establishing baselines, tracking progress, and pivoting to help your team achieve success.
  • Create a pilot program for new projects that allows you to try new things at a smaller scale so that you can tweak, test, analyze or stop an activity before pouring resources into it.

With a culture that embraces trial and error, you’re sure to find the next big thing for your industry. When associations innovate, we all win. Want more ideas on Strategy and Innovation? Reach out to our team!


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