Having worked as a turnaround expert for the past 20 years, it’s amazing to see what it is that causes projects, initiatives and businesses to fail.
Surprisingly the majority of the causes of failure are self-inflicted. With just a little bit of care, research and forethought, many of them can be avoided. Take start-up launches, for example, did you know that 95 percent of them fail and that the number one cause, which accounts for over 42 percent of the failures, is easily avoidable.
How can I say this? Well it’s because the reason they fail is that there is no market need for the product or service they have created. This is easily resolvable. A little bit of market research should tell you whether or not there is a need and if there isn’t, then don’t create that product or service. It’s simple supply and demand, if there is no demand, then do not create the supply.
The top causes of failure that I see as I work with my clients are:
they have the wrong focus
they lack accountability and ownership
they have over complicated things
they lack transparency into operational performance
In many instances if companies could address these four areas they would significantly increase the probability of success, and also the speed with which they achieve it. A lack of focus and accountability reduce effectiveness, by either having people doing the wrong job or having the wrong people do the wrong job.
A lack of simplicity and transparency reduce efficiency, as complexity is the enemy of execution. If we lack visibility into how we are performing it’s easy to become happy with what is unseen under-achievement.
To improve focus we need to ensure that we have a clear picture of what success look like. We need to ensure we don’t overload ourselves with too many goals, because when everything is our focus, then nothing is our focus. And we need to make sure we communicate clearly to our teams, not only what our goals are, but also why they are important as that will help them manage the process of achieving them.
Accountability is probably one of the easiest things to fix but is often the most overlooked. Accountability all starts with the leadership, if they act as role models for accountability, this will help create a culture of accountability. The challenge is, of course, too many leaders choose to create a blame culture over accountability and nothing kills accountability faster than blame.
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. The simpler we can make things the more likely they are to get done. The challenge is we seem to have an built-in tendency to make things more complex than they need to be. The simplest way to boost simplicity is to imagine what you would do if you only had 20 percent of the time available to complete tasks, this helps us fight that tendency to over-complicate things and the more we practice, the better we become at doing it.
Transparency is probably my favorite element and that probably comes from my Math and IT background. I do love the data, as it can tell us so much about how we are performing. With the growth of data analytics, many more people are starting to see and understand the power of data. But we need to make sure we measure the right things, which we have clear measurements of our progress towards our desired goals.
When we can get that measurement right, then we are truly on the road to success because as Peter Drucker says “what we measure gets improved,” and if we measure progress then we will improve our progress.
Taking care of these four little things — focus, accountability, simplicity and transparency — will have a dramatic positive impact on your performance and your results, by helping you avoid the many common causes of failure.