There are few things as exciting in business as creating and executing a “big idea”. That is, an idea that transforms your business and has an impact on your customers, employees and external stakeholders.

We hear, of course, about the successful ones such as Jack Welch’s many “big ideas” in GE. What we don’t hear about are the failures. However, the statistics show that most “big ideas” fail. Why?

Sometimes, it is because the premise behind the idea is wrong. Most times, it is because the idea and the change management tools used to introduce and execute it become more important than the outcome.

Here are ten signs that your big idea is becoming more important than the outcome and is a big idea gone bad.

Dissention is discouraged

Vigorous debate is necessary in the implementation of a big idea. The very premise of the idea needs to be challenged periodically. Introducing change immediately alters the environment in which we work and therefore, the environment in which the big idea was conceived.

People who do not believe in the big idea and say so are not a necessary evil, they are a necessary good. They should be encouraged to speak their mind and accept challenge back in robust debate as a means of keeping the big idea true to itself.

Major change creates unintended consequences. Major change which stifles dissent creates unintended consequences which are unseen until it is too late.

Process becomes more important than outcomes

Change processes designed at the beginning of a major change project are not always appropriate six months later when the change project itself has altered the environment in which the process must work.

It is better to change or eliminate a process rather than maintain it when the results it achieves are minimal. If you do not challenge your processes every six months during change you are likely to lose concentration on the outcome. Your big idea is already being hijacked by inertia.

Symbolism replaces action

Many big ideas are “launched”. With much fanfare and a concentration on team building and leadership exercises the big idea “comes to town”. The heavy symbolism usually attached to these launches creates a high degree of anticipation and excitement in most people.

In some people it does not. Some people are looking for the substance behind the symbolism. In time, after the launch, most people are looking for the substance.

When a launch contains much in exercises, both indoor and outdoor, that symbolise leadership and teamwork and nothing is changed about the way people work back in the office, the slide into symbolic rather than real change has begun.

For instance, imagine a customer service launch over two days packed with activities demonstrating how to give service as a team. Imagine the team returns to their office adorned with new banners extolling customer service and each employee has a button commending one of the five core customer service actions. Included in the actions is a notion of “Answering the phone within three rings”. However, the shift roster has not changed and there is insufficient staff in peak periods to pick the phone up in ten rings let alone three.

Within a week, cynicism sets in. Symbols can be powerful, but only when overtly backed by action.

Reporting takes as much time as doing

Every project needs a reporting process to measure progress against plan. Some big ideas need a reporting process to confirm that change is actually happening. Reports must validate whether people’s behaviour is changing so the desired results can be achieved.

However, when the reports and the way they are competed and presented becomes more important than the result being conveyed, the potential exists for the report to become what is important, not the result.

When you find reports being critiqued more for their form than their function it may be time to review the purpose of the reports.

Values associated with the Big Idea unconsciously communicated are at odds with the consciously communicated.

Big ideas always come with a set of consciously and unconsciously communicated values.

The consciously communicated ones will almost always include leadership, trust, teamwork and innovation.

If, in the execution of the big idea, senior teams work in secret or contrary ideas are silenced or safety issues at the big launch are not adequately dealt with, the unconsciously communicated values outweigh the consciously communicated.

People will observe, in the above example, that the values preferred are those related to subservience.

Cynicism and disinterest in the Big Idea are not too far away.

Results are not evident on the bottom line

Big ideas usually cost big money. Even when they do not, the expectation is that there will be a change to the bottom line, whether it is a single or “triple” bottom line.

If, after a year, there is no appreciable change to the bottom line, hold a review. If the big idea was not intended to show a change in the bottom line until after two years, you have generous stakeholders and there had better be a set of leading KPIs that show the change in the bottom line is still on-track.

If there is no set of leading KPIs then your project is probably in trouble.

Change is too difficult, full of unintended consequences, to not have early warning of the likely impact on the bottom line.

Membership of committees guiding the big idea is more important than working for the result

When the only way to get noticed and be promoted in your organisation is to work on a committee involved in steering the change required to embed the big idea, it is time for a review of your priorities.

Ask the question, “What are we in business for?” It is unlikely that the answer will be, “For change”. Whilst leading and steering change are important attributes in leaders, so is managing the business undergoing the change.

When a big idea is being executed, be careful not to put all of your good people on the teams and committees involved in the change.

Customers are neglected

Customers require focus, even during major change. When a change becomes all consuming with all focus being internal, you can lose sight of who pays your bills.

If customers are not being visited as often, if product and service upgrades are put on hold whilst the big idea is implemented, a problem is created that even your big idea may not solve.

Employees are neglected

When so much time and energy is spent on implementation of a major change that coaching and appraising of staff is forgotten, two issues emerge.

One is that those involved in driving the change feel that they are, to a greater or lesser degree, being taken advantage of.

Those not directly involved in driving the change feel left out and unimportant to the success of the business. Disillusionment grows not only with the change, but with the organisation overall.

The big idea’s goal changes

When you find the scope of your big idea expanding or the goal of the big idea changing, it is time for a review. It may be that the goal needed to change as implementation brought new opportunities which can be easily taken.

Most of the time however, it is a sign of drift, a sign that the idea lacks clarity or the team lacks resolve. Either way, it leads to implementation and resource usage creep. It is the beginning of the end for stakeholder support.