The Truth About Change: What Executives Get Wrong

Every executive I’ve ever met seems to love change programs. In truth, they’re excellent fodder for any update you need to send up the line to senior management or the board of directors. And in some cases, they might even generate actual results…

That being said, organizations appear to systematically misjudge the time and effort required to deliver these beasts. Various statistics from leading consulting firms point to a high failure rate for corporate strategic initiatives. Perhaps some of these might have been salvageable with different assumptions.

Generally speaking, I’ve noticed several of trends in expectations vs. reality:

  • Executive Pressure For Quick Implementation
  • Participation is always lower than expected
  • Value per “engaged” participant is often higher than expected
  • Like Hollywood, the easy money is always in the sequel….

Implementation speed suffers from the curse of being a highly visible metric for senior management to meddle with. There will always be significant incentive on the team to cut corners and commit to earlier dates since you’re balancing a risk (something *may* go wrong) against a certainty (sponsor pressure). This also forces the team into a tough spot with regards to balancing program quality against velocity. The passive aggressive response here is to kick the can down the road and use “unexpected” issues as a politically acceptable rationalization for a delay. Unfortunately, this approach usually works like a charm. My best advice for senior leadership would be to slow down, ask questions about the team’s focus and methods, and ensure they are pursuing the right opportunities.

Once the team has identified what needs to change, we come to the matter of driving compliance within the team. Participation is inevitably an issue; if you doubt this, have your team run a few reports which demonstrate the % of front line managers and staff actively implementing recommendations (based on hard metrics rather than “yessirs”). You will be underwhelmed. The good news is this is a GREAT place to deploy your sponsors, leveraging them to provide a little “encouragement” to the slackers. From a planning perspective, bump your projections down a bit on this metric.

Value per engaged participant tends to exceed expectations. This is generally a function of the team actually engaging and dealing with the issues at a specific account rather than any analytics insights. Problems tend to travel in groups: the neglected account which surfaced in your analysis may have other challenges which can be corrected in the same discussion. You should be alert to these opportunities but be cautious about the degree to which you allow them to count in the final tally for field compliance to ensure adequate progress on your original goals.

Finally, be ready to run the same program a couple of years in a row. You rarely identify the best problems to work on in the first pass. Those only emerge after a couple of rounds of testing and development. It is not uncommon to find your best opportunities in an analytics transformation program at 18 to 36 months into the process, as you start to comprehend the full value of the problem you’re working on.

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