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Five Reasons Why Most Strategic Initiatives Fail

Insights From Kevin | July 11, 2017 

Here’s the harsh reality: 70% of strategic initiatives fail in implementation. These are the large, “critically important” programs that leaders champion. They launch such campaigns to great fanfare, but most die a silent death, fading away with barely a mention (or sometimes crash).

According to Ram Charan, author of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, “70% of strategic failures are due to poor execution… it’s rarely for lack of smarts or visions.” 

But five fundamental actions can turn this situation around. In our experience, 70-80% of such initiatives succeed when a company follows these principles:

1. Explain your vision until employees actually understand it

Most programs fail for the simple reason that employees don’t understand what their leaders are trying to do. Stating your vision is not the same as making sure employees understand and absorb it.

People need to fully comprehend the vision. You need to give others a picture, both literally and figuratively. Show them: this is where we are going, and this is how we are going to get there (many leaders skip the second part). For example, you might explain that “we are going to invest in our sales force, put in a much more robust CRM, and increase our marketing.”

Finally, explain why you are doing this and why there is a sense of urgency. Show all what you are asking them to do.

2. Get people aligned

Posters, speeches, and company-wide email blasts are not nearly enough. Connect with your people, face-to-face. Get them to see that this is possible, that together you can actually achieve or surpass your goals.

Together, address questions such as:

  • What would it look like if we were successful in this initiative? 
  • How would people act differently?  
  • What would each of us change?

For example, what does it look like when you raise the level of customer satisfaction? It looks like National car rental, where every employee asks, “How was your car? How was the service?” when you return it… and they actually listen to your answer. 

3. Explain their role in delivering the vision

Every person and department should understand the roles and responsibilities that they own. They also need to understand the plan through which they will deliver the promised results.

In the absence of clarity, people tend to make stuff up. When this happens, chaos and inconsistency seeps into your business. Your description needs to be specific and vivid.

The more general the explanation, the greater the odds that things will go south. Companies like to skip training and explanations, but this is where you can cut chaos and confusion off at the pass.

4. Have a scorecard

Walk into a well-run paper mill and you’ll see a sign that shows how many safe workdays that plant has operated in a row. It should also have daily and weekly production results on a whiteboard.

Well-run businesses are filled with employees who know how they are doing, both collectively as well as individually. 

For example, the old Continental Airlines once set out to improve customer satisfaction. They decided that achieving more on-time departures was the single best way to impact customer satisfaction. One way they did this was by installing countdown clocks at each airport gate to track how much time remained before the plane needed to pull away from the gate on time, and the clocks publicly documented how the gate crew was doing.

5. Hold people accountable

When things don’t happen as planned, you need to have a culture that figures out what happened and holds people accountable for the results, or lack thereof. This doesn’t mean being overly harsh; it simply means recognizing that a problem exists and fixing it.

In failed projects, accountability often slowly fades away. People just stop trying, until eventually everyone does.

Summary

When you apply these five principles, you will start making solid progress. But it’s not magic. It’s a product of taking effective and consistent effort. If you go to the gym every day and follow what the trainer tells you, in not much time you will gain muscle mass and lose weight. 

None of the above principles are a secret, but collectively they represent a healthy discipline.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com