Friday, October 23, 2009

Why Corporate Initiatives Fail

Joseph Grenny has a good new column on Business Week's website regarding why so many corporate initiatives fail. Grenny cites some statistics about the rate of failure on special corporate initiatives:

Sustained research shows that across the U.S., estimated failure rates for corporate projects range from 66% to 91%. What's more, companies' collective inability to execute on major projects costs many billions of dollars a year. For example, it is estimated that of the $255 billion spent annually on IT projects in the U.S., more than a quarter is burned up in failures and cost overruns.

Grenny goes on to offer some explanations for the types of behavior that lead to such failures. In the past, I conducted a study on this topic, published in MIT Sloan Management Review. In that article, my co-author Lynne Levesque and I argued that many employees refer to such initiatives as just another "flavor of the month" prescribed by top management. They think to themselves, "This too shall pass." We argued that four critical processes in the early stages of an initiative can help insure that initiatives take hold and that change does indeed stick. Here is a brief excerpt from our prior work:

In our research, we discovered four critical processes that enable firms to avoid the “flavor of the month” trap. These antecedent processes lay the foundation for the successful institutionalization of a strategic initiative. The four sets of processes are: chartering, learning, mobilizing, and realigning. Chartering refers to the process by which the organization defines the purpose and scope of the initiative, as well as the way people will work with one another on the program. The chartering process has two critical components: boundary setting and team design. Learning refers to how managers develop, test, and refine ideas through experimentation prior to full-scale rollout. The mobilizing process entails the use of symbolism, metaphors, and compelling stories to engage people’s hearts as well as their minds so as to build commitment to the project. Finally, the realigning process consists of a series of activities aimed at reshaping the organizational context, including a redefinition of roles and reporting relationships as well as new approaches to monitoring, measurement, and compensation.


Brian said...

This could largely be summarized as "focus" and "rational expectations".

Focus: Do 2 things well, not 15 things poorly.

Rational Expectations: Create projects and situations where people can succeed. Many initiatives crash under their own unrealiztic expectations or time frames. Underpromise and overdeliver.

Michael Roberto said...

Jack Welch always said that he succeeded not because of intelligence per se, but rather persistence. He took a few big ideas, focused on them like a laser beam, and stuck with those initiatives for years (think Six Sigma, Best Practices, Work Out, etc.)