Why decisions don't stick

Over the years, I've seen lots of policy decisions fail to make it into reality. Yet surprisingly, there seems to be little correlation between the quality of the policy and the likelihood that it will be effectively implemented.


Good ideas seem to be almost as difficult to implement as bad ones. But if the quality of the policy isn't matched by the level of resistance, what is?

Well, I've noticed there is a moment in every policy implementation that seems critical to success or failure. And that's the moment of the public announcement.

If it's done well, people tend to go along. If not, it's all over before anything begins. Heels dig in and the battle of wills starts. (Of course, if a policy is truly odious, the best announcement won't help. But most decisions are neither magical nor malignant.)

I've also noticed a pattern of how these announcements go wrong. There are four basic types of failures.

1. No one finds out Surprisingly, managers don't always tell the staff about their decisions. This may sound funny, but it's possible for a group of managers to get together, debate an important topic, come to a conclusion and just assume that everyone knows what to do next.

No one outside of the room will ever find out because it was never anyone's responsibility to tell the staff. And the initiative will die of neglect. This is just poor planning.

2. Replay In this version, a decision is made and announced, but then it's debated all over again by the people affected. It is neither accepted nor rejected, but taken as a proposal rather than as a policy.

Here, the announcement fails to offer a compelling narrative to the staff. They may understand the content of the decision, but it isn't persuasive. So the debate that the management team had plays out all over again around the water cooler. And there, the proposal dies, is modified or – occasionally – is accepted.

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