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More than 70 percent of most internal initiatives fail to meet stakeholder expectations, according to the Harvard Business Review. Whether it is implementing a new system, a merger or acquisition, a business process improvement, opening a new office or pursuing a new direction, initiatives fail all too often. These major internal projects meant to help the company grow, improve and thrive are derailed due to issues that could have been planned for, but weren’t.

The cost of these failed initiatives—beyond the obvious inability of the business to grow and flourish—is hard dollars and time invested and lost. Hard costs include outright purchases of software, products, travel and outside services. There also is the investment of employees’ and leadership’s wasted or misused time. But there are also many “soft” costs, such as lost confidence in leadership, missed opportunities or loss of competitive advantage. These costs can ultimately far exceed the tangible measurable expenses.

When attempting to change, many firms get stuck at the implementation stage. This is where the rubber meets the road and many firms find it too difficult to get past their cultures of not holding people accountable.

Before implementation occurs, firms must calculate metrics and establish a baseline for 1 percent to 3 percent improvement, which is relatively easy and important for getting leaders and staff motivated. Evaluating what really is going on in the business involves asking employees for feedback, which can be streamlined using employee surveys. Then firms must develop a plan. This involves applying what it learned in the assessments to prioritize the initiatives that will have the biggest financial impact.

Without execution—or implementation—the whole process is a waste of time, effort and money. Following are 10 common challenges companies face when implementing effective change initiatives.

  1. Absence of leadership consensus: The primary reason change initiatives fail is lack of consensus and support from the firm’s leaders. Firm leaders must be at the forefront of communicating the importance of the change and show visible support for its results. If leaders don’t care enough to stay involved, then it will be difficult to expect employees to get behind an important project.
  2. Lack of accountability: Along with measuring progress comes holding employees accountable for the success of the project. This includes well-communicated rewards and consequences for meeting expected milestones and outcomes. Ensure all team members know excuses will not be tolerated and specific consequences, such as being removed from the team, will accompany failure to follow through with assigned tasks.
  3. Failure to communicate: Communication is critical to getting employee buy-in and eventual user adoption. The core of the communication should center on why the project is critical to the firm’s success and the value it will bring in the short and long term. Make sure employees understand how it will impact them directly—or resistance will be higher.
  4. Inadequate resources: Each internal improvement project needs adequate resources of time, money and people to be successful. Many firms underestimate what it will take to get change management initiatives implemented and are surprised to see what it costs or how long it takes in the end.
  5. Poor planning: Every internal initiative should be treated as a project with a scope, budget, and timeline and given the same attention as you would a billable project.
  6. Failure to measure: A lack of specific measurable metrics established to analyze results will make it very difficult to determine if the initiative is a success or failure. Everyone should know how the results will be measured and there should be a regular process for reviewing progress against expected milestones.
  7. Disjointed team: Without the right team, any initiative is doomed to fail. Ensure all team members are committed, have the right skills and time available, and are passionate about the project's mission.
  8. Missing feedback: Employees and other stakeholders can provide valuable feedback and clues about potential obstacles. Failure to ask for feedback often leads to a lack of buy-in and unexpected problems.
  9. Resistance: This is a normal reaction to change that be anticipated. Having a plan for resistance is an effective way to prepare for its inevitable consequences.
  10. Lack of defined outcomes: Failure to determine specific measureable goals and objectives for the project.
By ensuring these 10 challenges are anticipated and prepared for in advance, company leaders can give their firms the highest chance of success in implementing critical business improvements. They must take the time to understand where their firm stands before starting any new projects and have realistic goals that everyone can get behind.

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