We very often read about great organizations that have achieved exceptional results, unheard of pivots or tremendous leaps in business development with brilliant strategy. But most often it isn’t so much what they did as how they did it that makes tremendous difference. A lot of companies and the teams within get too caught up in the strategic planning stages and not enough emphasis, persistency and rigor is put on execution. According to HBR “most studies still show a 60-70% failure rate for organizational change projects – a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970s to the present”.
Nowadays the only thing that is constant is change and so finding the right formula of implementation is crucial not only for achieving great organizational changes but sometimes for survival. There is great book called Ruthless Consistency written by Michael Canic where he describes three startling reasons most strategic change initiatives fail.
In his book he describes in detail his model which he developed while still working as a corporate leader in FedEx where he gained and based the practical side as his district became the most recognized for service quality at that time. He offers a lot of transformational ideas and implementation process for a more agile and opportunities ready approach.
- Leaders unwittingly send mixed messages that demotivate their people and undermine those initiatives
“If a change initiative is ‘highest priority’ today, but another takes its place next week, people will not take you seriously.” says Marty Zwilling, founder and CEO of Startup Professionals with over 30 years leading technical business transformation among many other projects.
As mentioned at the beginning, it is not so much the what but the how a change is executed. We all have a million ideas a day but how do we go about implementing them is what differs the few that are successful. A measurement systems and a constant calibration are inevitable parts of the process as the marketplace is dynamic.
Strategy change is a process more than a destination. It starts with a reality check not only on the current situation but also on the resources, consistency and sacrifice needed to achieve the results that win. Commitment to the process and the steps will involve focus and conscious choices of sacrificing the instant gratifications for a higher purpose and remaining ruthlessly consistent with it.
- Leaders focus on what they do instead of what their people experience
Carefully selecting the team that would deliver the strategic change is another key component of its successful execution. It is not what people say but how they act that will give them away. It is somewhat of a paradox people with the “this is how we’ve always done things around here” attitude implementing change. Rather, we need people with a growth mindset and just like the execution itself, the team leading it needs to be constantly evaluated and appropriate corrective actions taken.
A strategic change is not a one-man initiative. Although the leader needs to be clearly invested in it. This process is a cumulative effort of an exceptional team that live and breathe the change. That would involve them being properly equipped, coached and supported - they are the change agents and need to carry that energy in everyday actions and interactions with others.
As the famous Maya Angelou saying goes “[…] people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
- Leaders are not as committed as they think they are or need to be
Much like in life, in business, there are no guarantees of success but the prerequisites for a successful transformation are known. People have it built into their nature to evaluate the sincerity of the words - it is a survival technique. They believe the actions taken to challenge consistently the status quo, everything else is just lip service and so the role of the leader to sell the compelling vision again and again, to live and breathe it, are integral part of the strategic plan and its execution. It not only reconfirms direction and consistency, it creates trust. External distractions, selective unavailability or lack of timely decisions (or empowerment where it is needed) are the enemy of execution and the momentum is quickly lost. Done this enough times creates consistency with failure rather than success and we all know what that means for any change initiatives.
Even reading the above might seem like empty words, so we need to look through some of the successful business examples for proof, right. Well, let’s take Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, for instance – who says that he still has to sell his team on many of his bold ideas and admits that the commitment to his team is crucial for leadership and for keeping ahead of the competition.
Or Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix who knew that taking the brand to the next level required infusing a higher purpose into the culture and it starts with the employees and so he started creating the compelling future for them first: “We don’t and can’t compete on breadth with Comcast, Sky, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, or Google. For us to be hugely successful we have to be a focused passion brand. Starbucks, not 7-Eleven. Southwest, not United. HBO, not Dish.”
“Ownership culture is central to everything,” Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens says in reference to plan Vision 2020 - a transformation of the company that started in 2014. It included actively encouraging and promoting decision making to all teams so all employees participate and feel they have a stake at the company success.
And so leading a strategic change starts off with a reality check, going on to focusing on the change process more than the strategic change planning, creating an enabling environment for your people and especially carefully selecting the ones with a growth mindset is vital. Especially key component in all of the above is the personal commitment and lead of the change initiative.
In essence, successful execution takes ruthless consistency, every step of the way.
Are you up for the challenge…