Goal Setting: The Truth About Change

Every executive I’ve ever met seems to love change programs. They’re excellent fodder for any update you need to send up the line. 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 organization. Participation is inevitably an issue: if you doubt this, have your team run a few reports to check how many front line managers and staff are actively implementing recommendations. 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.

On the positive side, value per engaged participant tends to exceed expectations. This is a function of the organization actually engaging and dealing with the issues rather than any analytics insights. Problems tend to travel in groups: the neglected account which surfaced in your analysis may have other challenges that can be corrected in the same discussion. One word of caution: while you should be alert to these opportunities and encourage the organization to address them, be wary of managers offering this in lieu of performing the original assignment. Keep them on task for the original objective.

Finally, be ready to run the same program a few years in a row. It is not uncommon to find your best opportunities in a transformation program at 18 to 36 months into the process. As mentioned before, process and customer problems often travel in packs – multiple overlapping issues obscuring the real root causes and opportunities. Your knowledge of the process, market, and organization will build with each cycle. The final result can often be significantly greater than you originally anticipated.

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