Why Do Business Initiatives Fail?


Companies too often ignore or merely pay lip service to understanding why expensive, high profile initiatives (e.g., new product launches, acquisitions and geographic expansions) fail.  There are obvious reasons for this including the desire to avoid embarrassment, a lack of relevant or timely information and internal politics.  However, this painful process must be undertaken.  Large organizations maintain market biases, organizational gaps and strategic flaws that can handicap all plans and activities. Often, the flaws are hidden, are difficult to separate from the cultural fabric or, even if acknowledged, are difficult to overcome.  Understanding and preempting an institutional predilection for failure will go a long way in reducing business risk and improving the odds of success with new initiatives.

One approach I use is adapted from Strategic Studies. In this academic discipline, generals, analysts and historians use failure analysis to understand what went wrong with military encounters so history does not repeat itself. One fine example of this thinking is Cohen and Gooch’s book, Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War.  The authors  use various military setbacks as case studies to highlight 3 common military failures: of anticipation, of learning and of adaptation. 

Within a business context, a failure to anticipate occurs when executives are caught napping by a strong competitive move because they either misread or ignore market signals. A failure to learn takes place when Companies continue to execute the same, ineffectual strategies despite evidence or experience that they don’t work.  Finally, a failure to adapt arises when executives don’t adjust their plans when faced with unforeseen and threatening competitive actions that don’t jive with conventional wisdom or their previous successes. 

Performing an objective and comprehensive debrief is one of the best guarantors that failures do not repeat themselves-at least in the short term.  Once Companies understand the institutional basis for failure they can deploy a variety of process tools and organizational changes to preempt (most) future setbacks.  Moreover, these enhancements can also better align strategy with metrics, improve communication flows, augment knowledge management and improve market analysis, synthesis and reporting.

For more information on our services or work, please visit us at www.quantaconsulting.com

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