Why Strategies Fail – It’s Because We Approach the Process Logically
Earlier this week I was having lunch with my friend Philip in a cafe in Covent Garden. The place looks beautiful, the menu is imaginative and attractive, but the service is chaotic. You can wait 1o minutes for them to serve you an espresso at the bar. If you are at a table, you can wait ages for someone to take your order then, a minute later, someone else will come and offer to take your order.
Philip knows the owner, and has spoken to her about the way in which poor service is undermining what should be a successful operation. Her response? She doesn’t accept the point, but she doesn’t deny it either. It’s as if, he says, “she just doesn’t hear it.”
Here’s my explanation. She can’t recognise what she can’t deal with. It’s clear that her interest is in the “creative” side of running a restaurant – the concept, the design, the menu… She doesn’t have any understanding of, any empathy for, the “industrial” side; the business of delivering consistent high quality service with the minimum number of minimally qualified staff. It’s because she has no way of dealing with this side of the business, no way of even beginning to think how she would organise to ensure good service even when she isn’t there, that she literally cannot hear what Philip is trying to tell her.
This is one of the reasons why new strategies so often fail. The logical way of proceeding is that we would first identify the issues. Then we would determine whether we had the skills to deal with them and, if not, set about acquiring them. But that’s not the way it works. If we don’t know how to deal with a problem, or at least believe that can learn how to, we just won’t be able to see it.
This calls into question a lot of change management advice, with its emphasis on creating a “sense of urgency” or a sense of crisis, both of which are basically euphemisms for “getting people more scared.” The fact is, if they don’t think they can deal with the issue, you can terrify them as much as you like but it won’t produce constructive action, or necessarily any action at all.
This is one of the points on why strategies fail that I’ll be covering in the next Discontinuous Improvement teleseminar on 6 March. For the full list, and some ways of doing better, register here. It’s free, and recorded for those who can’t attend live.