Why Do Great Ideas Fail?

Jan 27, 2016 1 Min Read

Dr Gregory LeStage, executive vice president of John Kotter’s advisory firm, Kotter International discusses why all the seemingly great ideas fail at the execution stage.

Q: Everybody is chasing the next big shiny idea. However, statistics have proven time and again that though leaders are good in coming up with strategies, they fail in execution. Do you agree?

For many executives, the initial attraction of new ideas can be powerful, even intoxicating. New ideas are the precious metals of the executive marketplace, and they are plentiful. Roughly 11,000 new business titles are published each year, not to mention the tens of thousands of magazines, articles and whitepapers that focus on the latest “big idea”.
If the timing and ideas are right, executives use expertise and painstaking craftsmanship to shape them into winning strategies. However, look closely at the floors of many C-Suite offices. They are littered with yesterday’s, last month’s, and last year’s bright, shiny objects, now dulled.

Q: In the interim, do you think that “bright” idea is no longer relevant?

We think it’s because the ideas lose their lustre – or their value – due to:

  1. who generated them
  2. how they morphed during generation, and
  3. how they transitioned from the executives’ minds to the hands of the workforce.

In many organisations, blue-sky thinking and idea incubation are the tightly held domains of the top-level executives and their consultant confidants – an interplay of methods, tools and activities familiar to many from their business school days. Idea generation is fun, fast, comparatively easy, and – typically – the province of the select few. Tremendous time, attention, rigour and respect are paid to these strategies as bright, shiny objects. Then they run into the ‘Great Wall of Execution’ that divides thinking and doing: Executives kill the ideas in infancy or doom them to future failure by not involving enough people at the outset.

Q: How can ideas be transformed into real-time business applications in an effective manner? Do leaders fail in capitalising on their employees’ strengths?

Too many of today’s executives fail to engage the right or right amount of people in execution. A typical mistake is to outsource their M&A integration and strategy execution efforts to external consulting firms.
Similarly, many senior leaders “anoint” special groups of select employees to do this work. This has the same effect as conventional outsourcing: small numbers of people have been exclusively appointed to perform critical work on behalf of the large majority of the workforce.
Outsourcing does not engage the diversity of ranks and roles – never mind the sheer numbers – of employees required to truly integrate, change and execute in ways that are deep, accelerated, and lasting.
Perhaps, this is a reason that more than 70% of strategies fail to execute. Insourcing can be far more effective when facing big opportunities and challenges. When CEOs tap the expertise and energy of their own employees in large, diverse, coordinated numbers, they unleash formidable intellectual power, labour, and motivation.

Q: Also, do you think leaders are millennial-ready?

Today’s generation of senior executives – in large and small companies – will soon become the minority in terms of experience, education, and expectations. This looming transformation is well-known, but there is not a commensurate sense of urgency to really, holistically prepare for it.
CEOs must begin to lead their organisations’ human capital strategy towards this future now because the shift is so far reaching. Millennials’ different skillsets, mindsets and expectations of employment will infuse every cell of an organisation. Any leader over 40 would be well-served to study closely the successes and failures of companies built or heavily populated by millennials.

Q: And with the global expansion of companies, do you think leaders are well-equipped to handle ‘glocal’ challenges?

As more companies are spreading around the world, a chronic challenge is becoming bigger: how to lead the company – from headquarters or within the individual regions or units? Hence, there exists the global/local dilemma.
CEOs make the mistake of attempting to “solve” it by giving too much authority to corporate or too much autonomy to their local entities. Ironically, vastly increased connectivity has not made leading such connected workforces any easier. Communication and collaboration will always be hindered by the gulfs between locations and cultures.

Dr Gregory LeStage is executive vice president at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organisations. This article originally appeared on Times Ascent, and is reposted with permission.
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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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