What makes strategic initiatives fail?

By Stephanie Reynolds, Chief People Officer, and Executive Coach

5 ways to help your initiatives get the adoption they deserve

Your job as a leader is to make things better, think beyond the status quo, and move people toward that new reality.  That means you need your innovative strategic initiatives to succeed.

Often critically needed initiatives fail for the same avoidable reasons.

Here’s an example:

Jim is VP of Product Development.  Jim knows that his company needs to adopt a new customer centric program to be competitive.  The company had been a leader in their field by launching a huge innovative product eight years ago. There was no competition at the time, and for at least five years they held a huge percentage of the market share. Now competitors who constantly adapt and release products consistent with the drumbeat of their customers are eating Jim’s lunch. His company has been losing market share for the last three years.

Now Jim’s CEO has charged Jim with developing the company’s roadmap of products.

He knows in order to develop customer-centric products, his company needs to change their antiquated and well-worn ways of gathering customer feedback and user data. This requires a full-on entry into the world of social media and business intelligence tracking that would be brand new to their way of doing business.  The need for the change seems so obvious to Jim as the CEO has been pushing for customer centric products for three years. He researches a multi-tiered solution, runs his plans past his CEO and gets buy-in, but doesn’t get critical support from the stakeholders most impacted by the change—customer service, sales, marketing, and even finance would all be hugely impacted.

At first, Jim’s initiative gets surface buy-in and support at the senior team level due to political politeness.  In reality, the changes required of his major stakeholders are too vast for them to reach their year-end objectives.  They end up giving “lip service” agreement in front of the CEO, but sabotage Jim’s initiative by stalling, not providing resources, rejecting vendors, and so on…

His initiative stalls out and dies at a critical time for the company, never seeing the light of day. Business suffers and the reputation of the company continues to decline. He had the right idea but didn’t realize who his real stakeholders were and how much work needed to be done to support and align them.

5 ways to help your initiatives get the adoption they deserve

1 / Consider the timing.

What is going on in the company, industry, and the current business climate to ensure that the timing is right? What other initiatives have succeeded or failed recently that might help or hinder yours being adopted?

2 / Know who your true stakeholders are.

Many leaders feel having CEO buy-in is enough. But all CEO’s have constituencies they must satisfy, and those same CEOs are constantly challenging their organizations with competing priorities. Who has the most to lose? Who has the most to gain? Who will have to make the biggest changes to adopt the initiative?  What challenges will they face to be able to make them? Those that have the most to lose should be listened to most closely.

3 / Once you know your stakeholders, spend time cultivating each of them.

Ask questions about their true challenges and get their wishlist from about what their highest-level goals and aspirations might be. You may find some great shared intentions you can tie your initiative to.

4 / Think about your influence strategy from a creative standpoint.

You may need to vary your “business as usual” influence mindset and think creatively about who or what might influence them if not you. Think about ways to engage unconventional supporters to do the influencing for you.

5 / Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Frequently, initiatives get off to a great start with a lot of fanfare but lose momentum due to under-communication. There are always fits and starts for any project, keep your stakeholders and especially potential nay-sayers engaged with lots of updates and check-ins. Momentum building and maintaining are equally important.

Lack of stakeholder alignment and on-going support is always the biggest “deal killer” for initiatives. If you put as much time into aligning your stakeholders as you would a sales or marketing campaign for a new product, the chance that your initiatives will succeed goes up exponentially!


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