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Top 5 Mistakes When Launching Strategic Initiatives and How to Avoid Them

When strategic initiatives launch, there is usually a massive communications plan internally and even externally—and then everyone begins to expect immediate results.

Unfortunately, more than 70% of strategic initiatives fail due to complex environment, unclear strategies and unempowered employees. To make it very clear, for each billion spent on strategic initiatives, $149 million is lost.

At One2Team we have helped our clients manage hundreds of strategic initiatives for the past 15 years. And with a $2.1 trillion spending forecast worldwide in digital transformations technologies, we say it’s high time we show you how to execute better. From our front-row seat, here are the 5 most common mistakes we see and how you can solve them.

Mistake #1: Creating more initiatives and expecting more results

Strategic initiative plans typically have tens if not hundreds of projects in their full scope. It’s indeed tempting to launch most or all of them all at the beginning. Realistically, there is a maximum work capacity in any organization—and these projects are often done on top of day-to-day activities instead of replacing business as usual. And as this volume of work increases far beyond capacity, both new and regular process breaks down.

Our tip: Companies should decide on a maximum number of concurrent initiatives they can manage at the same time and keep a backlog. Once projects are completed and measurable results begin to appear, only then do you decide which new project(s) to pick from your backlog. Some initiatives identified at the beginning of the process are not relevant anymore. This gatekeeping helps keep your priorities straight and know where to focus.

Mistake #2: Providing no incentives for initiative leaders

Strategic initiatives are launched because they are key for the company. You assign them to your best high-achiever and high-potential employees. This same group is probably also in charge of day-to-day business. When there is a competing issue with their business unit or customer, what will they focus on? We bet they’ll choose the day-to-day.

Our tip: Incorporate milestones or targets for strategic initiative success in their incentive plan. It reminds them that the initiatives are key to the company, as much as their day-to-day performance.

Mistake #3: Ignoring the tunnel effect

How much do you really know about your strategic initiatives once they are launched? The typical situation is that, 6 or 9 months into the strategic initiatives plan, there are dozens of initiatives launched. Everything is in progress yet there are zero official results. This is when the executive sponsor can become a little fazed and their confidence level starts to dive.

Our tip: Define a common set of simple key milestones early on, and use them for all initiatives in a regular business review process. Then you can have a factual view that is not a declaration of percent complete or an emotional reaction to pressure. Here are a few milestones examples: business case approved, initiative launched, pilot validated, deployment ongoing, 1st results achieved, initiative completed.

Mistake #4: Avoiding issues

We all know that delivering projects correctly starts by planning them well. After a very short window, though, the key to securing results is having a comprehensive view of risk, issues and blockers rather than just deliverables that were planned. Some companies avoid reporting problems to management until far too late in the plan.

Our tip: Use this comprehensive issues list as a key lever to make decisions early and to anticipate risk. As a decision maker, which would you prefer: early notice on emerging problems when you have the most options to solve them, or a thorough report on late deliverables with few ways to course correct? Then ask yourself: where is that list for the strategic initiatives you run today?

Mistake #5: Forgetting how to validate the expected results

For most of us, it’s standard practice to do systematic business cases before launching initiatives. It’s a process that is central to prioritizing and launching the right projects. Sometimes we communicate the overall impact of the strategic initiatives to our board members, our shareholders, and the market—and sometimes we don’t because the numbers just don’t make sense.

Our tip: Define a process for the capture and validation of benefits, before any initiative is launched. This is key to avoid double counts or fuzzy consolidation. It will increase your confidence when communicating the overall impact or driving related decisions. This analysis is often defined and validated by a separate function outside of the business units, for example: controlling or finance.

Have you experienced those problems when launching strategic initiatives? If you’re drowning in these common mistakes, feel free to contact us to see how we can help.

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