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The Reasons Strategies Fail

Strategies fail for 1 common reason - the failure to take into account human nature. Strategies often take into account how many people are needed, what their skillset needs to be, and even change management techniques. Those things miss the idea of human nature.

As people, we like to think ourselves as rational beings. We think that we do things and make decisions based on logic and what makes sense. However, that is rarely the case. Dan Aierly likes to give the example how if something costs $10 and we think it should cost $5, we won't buy it. But if something costs $1000 when we think it should cost $995, we will buy it. The amount is the same ($5), but our reactions are totally different.

When the strategies are coming from the executive level (as they often are), the manager has to be the one to analyze the human nature aspect of the plan. It means communicating up to the executives of what they need to be aware.

I am currently working with a client that is facing this exact situation. The executive level wants improvements with a specific job role and has even given a good list of the skills they want to see in the role. Executives have communicated the change, built the case, and even been supportive of what resources are needed to change.

Yet, they are seeing no improvement. Why? Human nature.

The change requires the people in the role and their managers to commit time to training and change. Workloads make that time difficult to find. Those people and their managers have to make a choice - they are going to disappoint the directors and VPs in some way. Either the project will take longer than necessary or they will not do the training and therefore won't make the changes. These people make an informal calculation in their head, something along the lines of "which thing will give me the least amount of trouble if I miss it?"

The people in the role and their managers know that the project deadline is way more important. So they make the very real and understandable choice to get in trouble for not doing the training.

I had a mentor once who told me when I started "no one ever got fired for being over budget, but lots of people get fired for poor quality". The message was clear - get it done right and don't worry about the budget. If you miss budget, someone will yell at you, but it will be short term pain. If you have bad quality, you'll be fired.

Many budgets were missed - accounting would grumble, but things would move forward.

Managers - when presented with a strategy that you know is not going to work, you have a duty to communicate that and explain why to your manager. It may not change anything, but you have that obligation to your manager and your team.

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