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The One Tool to Prevent a Failed Company Initiative

Company initiatives can include rebranding, acquisition integrations, new product or market segment launches, process changes, new technologies or digital transformations, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs, or a host of other projects. But unfortunately, the data is clear – most company initiatives fail. McKinsey and Associates, Harvard Business Review, The Economist, and Forbes Magazine (along with many top-tier research firms) estimate that nearly 70% don't achieve their intended objectives. Why is this?

The general consensus around why they fail: lack of communication or miscommunication. Our experience at Butler Street supports this reasoning. Communication failure can come in many forms, and among those we see most commonly, a few stand out:

  • Too many initiatives – creating associate burnout

  • Loss of focus on the initiative itself by senior leadership

  • Executives who are disconnected from the front line of the business

  • Lack of front-line leadership buy-in

Here’s how one tool - “Cascading Agreements” - can help you overcome these communication challenges and significantly increase your likelihood of success.

The success or failure of most initiatives occurs on the front line of the business. Salespeople, account managers, customer service representatives, recruiters, and their managers are the “face of the company” for customers. Having agreements in place that align and tree up through the organization is a critical tool for ensuring that communication is effectively happening from the top down. Agreements also facilitate feedback from the front of the business upwards.

So, what do we mean by “Agreements”?

A foundational tool that drives good coaching is having agreements with the people on your team - and there are six areas of focus that are important to include. Three are data-driven (Outcomes, Activities, and Processes), and three require observation of actions and conduct (Communication, Behavior, and Values) Best practices are that these agreements need to be discussed and individualized and, most importantly, written down and committed to by the manager and their direct report(s). And they should not just describe the agreement itself but also indicate why it is important to the success of the direct report, how it will be measured, and the steps both manager and a direct report will take to facilitate accountability.

This is a simple concept, but it's not easy because it requires managers to spend one-on-one time with every individual on their team to ensure understanding, alignment, and engagement toward the desired goals. But once in place, these agreements facilitate exactly the type of high-quality, focused, consistent communication that can significantly increase the likelihood of success for major company initiatives.

Cascading Agreements and Company Initiatives

When companies launch initiatives (whether they are new products, sales processes, brands, or software) then agreements need to be adjusted - because we are asking the people in the company to change their behavior.

To ensure that communication about initiatives is consistently driven downward and upward throughout the organization and that everyone in the company knows what their role is in its success, these changes to formal agreements need to cascade through the organization. We recommend that leadership inspect these agreements two levels down to ensure that alignment is actually occurring.

Let’s look at an example. Assume that Company A is launching a new product line. The Senior Executive team might introduce a new set of agreements with and for the Vice President, Sales that looks something like this:

In this example, the Vice President, Sales, will translate this agreement set for each Area Vice President, who in turn translates it into agreements with their Regional Managers. In order to achieve "two levels down," the Vice President, Sales, will inspect the agreements of Regional Managers, and Area Vice Presidents will inspect the agreements of individual sales representatives and account managers.

Concerns and challenges are initially captured during the agreement setting process and immediately fed back up through the system. Activity, Process, and Communication agreements ensure the feedback loop continues throughout the initiative. Values and behavior that might impact the initiative negatively are dealt with proactively, and the entire team, from top to bottom, is focused on doing their part to achieve the outcome desired.

Communication is the key to successful company initiatives…and Cascading Agreements are the tool that will give you the framework you need to tackle this most difficult part of the journey. Contact us to learn more.


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