Survey Results- Why Strategic Initiatives Fail


First I want to thank all those who participated in the survey. The following table to a comparison of your responses to a survey that was completed by PMI called "Enabling Organizational Change Through Strategic Initiatives" and as can be expected, there are some similarities and some differences.

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So let me go through an analysis of the results. First the most consistent rank was the technical expertise criteria. Both results are very similar suggesting that there is general understanding that strategic initiatives don't fail because of lack of technical expertise. This is a useful insight for those who may believe that know-how is critical to strategic success. Clearly there are so many other more important factors to consider.
Insufficient Communication and Lack of Leadership most Important Factors
The base survey identified communication as the most important factor and our survey was similar but not as high. The message here is that communication is key. I know for me, whenever any issue occurs on most any interaction it is a result of poor team communication. If a failure or lack luster outcome occurs, it is almost always due to poor or misaligned communication. And the amazing thing about communication is that we often realized the vulnerability of poor communication but continue to find new ways to mismanage this important factor. This one is definitely an area for continuous improvement.

Leadership was our number one response so there is clear recognition of its importance. However, overemphasis on leadership without effective communication can hinder the end result. Like shouting in a forest, you could be the best orator, but what't the point if no one can hear you. So we see that these two factors are critical and where most of our energy should be focused for change initiatives.
Biggest Difference of opinion on "Poor Direction of Implementation"
This was an interesting result were our survey placed much more importance on this factor than the PMI survey (25% more). So what does this tell us? For me, this suggests that as long as the organization has a reasonable idea on where it is heading, this factor will not contribute that strongly to a strategic failure. Of course, if the fundamental direction is incompatible with market conditions or extremely misaligned with culture, the impact may be greater, but assuming a reasonable direction is planned, the higher risk factors go back to leadership and communication.

For me, when plotting a new strategic course, I have had more success with well executed changes that focus on a simple theme rather than a complex plan that can both confuse the overall vision of the direction and be difficult to communicate. So I guess it all depends on your experiences of success and what this factor means to you.
Stakeholder Management more important than thought
It looks like this factor was undervalued from our survey, while its the third highest important factor from the PMI results. So now that we see the results, lets stop and think about what this means.

Strategic Initiatives usually involve an entire organization and can easily include external partners and customers if branding, service levels, or new positioning is part of the plan. Who will make these ideas real in the end analysis? It will be all the people and organizations involved in delivering, using and benefiting from your product or service. If you can't get the stakeholders to be engaged and supportive of the new strategic initiative then why else do it!

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves on why we are doing what it is we are doing and be clear on the reason for the change.

I hope this discussion was useful in reminding us of both the complexity and elegant simplicity of strategic change management. One thing I try to remind myself of when engaged in any change work is to consciously move between details and big picture outcomes so that perspective is exercised throughout the process. It's like spending too much time in a sweet bakery, the air smells great once you first enter but you lose sensitivity the longer you stay. So move around in perspective and make sure your senses stay sharp!

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