What causes every second strategy initiative to fail?
In management literature numerous reasons are identified causing these failures, ranging from unclear communication, ambiguous goals and responsibilities and silo behavior to ineffective culture, resistance to change and poor leadership. These causes are definitely important, but there is another underlying factor, a root cause which influences the elements mentioned above: psychological safety.
Despite the growing believe in flexible strategies and agile learning organizations, many—if not most—large organizations continue to organize their strategy processes in top-down manner, approaching strategy execution from the conception ‘strategy as planning’. The main reason this approach is likely to fail is the fact that it is not in tune with a world that is becoming increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). In a VUCA world strategies are hypotheses rather than plans. This asks for testing through action, adjusting based on experience and realizing through learning. This calls for a ‘strategy as learning’ approach.
Strategy as learning requires speaking up, dissenting, error reporting, candidly discussing risks and practicing organizational error management. For all of these psychological safety is key! Without these behaviors, especially at the C levels, the success rate of strategic initiatives is not likely to change for the better. Psychological safety is therefore one of the most underestimated factors for strategy execution.
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