The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 13, 2019 1:00 am

Thinking of failure can fuel success

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Once you've got the perfect strategy, take some time to list all the reasons the initiative will fail.

It may seem counterproductive, but it can actually save leaders and other stakeholders frustration and time in the end.

“If we don't take a moment to predict what might go wrong, clearing it up on the back end always takes so much longer,” Erica M. Tetuan, a change management practice lead for GP Strategies, said during a September webinar.

GP Strategies is a global performance consulting company with offices in North and South America, the Middle East and Africa.

Tetuan's hourlong session, “Driving Strategy: How to Avoid the Top Three Mistakes,” addressed the need to get clarity on intent, garner the right support and plan for what might go wrong.

It was part of a series of free webinars offered by Chief Learning Officer, a multimedia publication focused on the benefits of a properly trained workforce.

Webinar participants responding to one of Tetuan's questions cited change fatigue, execution issues, engagement from their board, time and resources, communication and executives not being on the same page as among the barriers to strategy adoption.

Lack of clarity, Tetuan said, remains the top issue. Several questions can help bridge the gap between intent and understanding. They include:

• Why? What current problems are you trying to solve and why is the proposed plan the best means?

• Why now? What is the driving factor today compared to a year ago or next year?

• What if we don't do this? If an organization continues as is, what are the implications? Will the problem get worse? What opportunities will be missed?

Tetuan said each person on a team should independently answer such questions and the group should compare answers.

Asked whether their organizations do an excellent job aligning on strategic intent, 79% of the webinar participants said no.

Garnering support from key stakeholders is crucial, Tetuan said.

The leaders and influencers at any level of an organization need to be identified, she said.

Those driving the strategy have to assess whether those leaders support the change and the aptitude for “being an engaged advocate” for it.

But even the seemingly best-laid plans can go awry. That means leaders have to be predictive through practices such as a PreMortem.

A PreMortem involves asking stakeholders to assume an initiative has failed and to imagine and list the reasons why. That predictive feedback should make it easier to develop a mitigation strategy to help prevent failure.

All the reasons a team comes up with should be ranked by factors such as the potential business impact and in order of those most likely to occur to least likely.

When doing the exercise in a room of stakeholders, Tetuan said the responses could be written on paper before a discussion occurs to solicit input. At the end, it's important to collect the paper the responses were written on. 

It might be surprising, Tetuan said, the number of legitimate reasons for potential failure that are suggested on paper but no one had the courage to mention out loud.

The process may seem planning heavy and cumbersome, but it has merit.

Experience shows, Tetuan said, that if the work is done “up front, we don't end up doing it on the back end” when it is so much harder.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at

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