I Know Why Your Big Decisions Are Going to Fail


Think about the biggest decisions your organization makes:

  • Key strategic moves/investments

  • Hiring a significant number of new staff

  • Moving/redesigning office space

  • “Digital transformation” (translation: switching/deploying major tech platforms).

There’s a lot on the line with these decisions, and for the record, I want nothing but the best for you—I hope these big decisions to pan out and lead to your next big promotion. The bad news is, I don’t think your odds are very good. I wouldn’t say a high percentage of these big decisions flat-out “fail,” but I am confident that a significant percentage of them fall far short of expectations.

Why? Because your culture is getting in the way.

This is what they mean when they say “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Your culture values certain behaviors and patterns (which is true, whether you intended it to be that way or not, by the way), and frequently those patterns in your culture patterns will work very specifically AGAINST your big decisions. It happens over time, and isn’t always glaring. That’s why I call it “culture friction.” You’re still moving forward, but not nearly at the pace you should be, and in the end, you will fall short of expectations on those big decisions:

  • You don’t capture the market share you thought you would with that strategic move (I wonder why we were unsuccessful at cross-selling?).

  • You hired 20 great new sales people, but only 5 of them were still with you a year later (I wonder why they were unable to get their prospects product information quickly enough?).

  • You lost several top performers to your competitors following the big office redesign (I wonder why productivity among middle managers declined suddenly?).

  • Your tech project ended up 100% over budget and took three years instead of one (I wonder why our requirements were so off from what we really needed?).

What’s interesting to me is that when it comes time to explain the less-than-optimal performance on these decisions, culture rarely gets mentioned. We are quick to point out other reasons for our failure, yet we ignore the one reason over which we probably have the most control!

You need to start connecting the dots between your culture patterns and your results. You know why you were unable to cross-sell? Because you didn’t realize that your “culture of entrepreneurship” that you valued so much meant people grew their own accounts by selling what they already knew, rather than expanding to other product areas. Announcing your new plan to grow into a new market by cross-selling is great—and no one will object to it overtly—but your culture is the reason it’s not going to work. So if you want to fix this, then you will need to understand your culture patterns, which is why I argue staying away from high-level core values and doubling down on articulating exactly how your organization does things like collaboration, agility, innovation, and transparency. Nail those culture patterns. Reduce your culture friction. Success rate on big decisions increases. If you’re ready to do that, let me know.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Jamie NotterComment