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Why do so many change management initiatives fail?

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It's been estimated that a full 70 percent of change management initiatives fail. Whether that number still holds true, change is one of the toughest tasks for a company to take on.  So why do so many change management initiatives fail, and what can a company do about it?

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  • 1) Executive sponsorship (empowerment)
    2) Execution (follow-through)

    What can a company do? Someone high up enough in the feeding change designates who the bus driver is, gives them the keys to the bus and turns 'em loose.

    Only problem is a lot of the time when you ask "Who's driving the bus?" they go "What bus?"

  • Change management initiatives fail because people do not want to change. Yes, you need executive sponsorship. You also need buy-in from the business. Of course, you need to execute. But these are not causal factors, they are contributors. In order to effectively change an organization, you have to have willing organizational participants. As such, the root cause of change management is more psychological and organizational.

    As such, we need to spend more time inside the heads of our people than outside in their workplace. Neuroscience is one of the emergent techniques that is showing promising results in this area. Through practical neurological and cognitive studies, we can better develop programs that reduce negative perceptions and possibly maximize positive emotional responses (an necessary axiom for change). The net result is a more effective adoption of the change call to action.

    • You're more interested in the cause, I'm more interested in the solution. True, there's an extensive organizational change, psychological aspect to these and I've seen a lot of big organizations pour a lot of money into this coming at it from your perspective. People and processes do wear a rut in the road and are inclined to stay there.

      Being a technologist and an implementer, I don't have the time or the patience for the (pardon my subjectivity here) pseudo-psychological, neurological schlock. Making everybody feel all warm and fuzzy, empowered, engaged etc. Clients, particularly senior management, pay me to get 'er done. Give me the teeth to do so and I will. Success breeds success.

      Most successful engagement I ever had was as the lead architect on the BPM COE for a large east coast financial, where I was given and had the "teeth." Stuff got done, worked better, faster, easier and the masses (initial recalcitrance and moaning aside) rejoiced.

  • The most common reason why change management projects fail is that not all levels of an organisation are clear or even aware of the change project aims or purpose. Every tier has to 'buy in' to the project and then real results can be achieved.

  • Failure in change management initiative is due to failure to engage the right people ( high or low in the company).

  • So we are all in violent agreement, most change initiatives fail due to a lack of engagement. Whether that be with workers on the shop floor or those sitting on the top floor in the executive suite.

    So the question then becomes why are such people not engaged and why do they, in some cases, actively work to block change initiatives?

    In the first instance, how much time is taken at the beginning of any initiative to understand peoples motivations? How much thought is put into selling and promoting the value of new ways of working? The answer may well be a lot, but if we are not getting the results we want then perhaps we are still not doing enough.

    In the second case it is usually because we are not engaging people in the development of solutions. You know the third biggest lie in the world? "We're from head office and we're here to help" :-) - joking apart it is hard to resist the changes that you suggest yourself, so get more people suggesting how they would make changes. This of course means a change in our own approach, we need to spend more time helping them understand why things need to change and what the desired result needs to be and less time analysing and designing solutions for people.

    Of course the other aspect is cultural, in many cases big change takes longer to achieve than the exec/manager is in role, which likely means we are forever changing but never actually seeing the results.

    Remember, people do not care how much you know! - until they know how much you care!

    • Right! Requirements elicitation 101 - "Tell me what you want to do." Call me old school, but one of my greatest tools over the years is invoking executive sponsorship of a requirements JAD. I insist that end-users (not managers, supervisors, directors) be the participants (management can observe) and empowered to define the functionality.

      Give me three, four, five (God help us, a couple of weeks if necessary) in that room with those people, where I can clearly communicate that I want to give them a system that does what they want and need it to do - after all, it's their business processes, not mine; they know what they need it to do - and I'll give you an engaged user community, power users and early adopters who, by their increased productivity and satisfaction, are in the vanguard towing the rest of the organization with them.

      But first comes that empowerment from the powers that be. I liken it to beneficent dictatorship. ;)

      Cheers, Pat

  • Why 70% fails? Easy. Because 30% succeeds.

    I'm done with failures for this year, so what where success factors for making change happen?

  • It boils down to alignment and buy-in of purpose which in turn sets up an organization to tackle the operational challenges when rolling out change. Alignment is the operative word. There isn't enough time spent on understanding the stakeholders, motives, incentives/MBOs, organizational dynamics to define a level of alignment that will achieve success. It is not a black/white turn key event. Too many times we think the executive sponsorship solves the buy-in because there is annointment thus no effort is needed to align the whole stakeholder body and illuminate purpose, in turn commitment. There are plenty of frameworks and experience out there to drive change management in various forms but success depends on alignment of purpose. Change management is complex and hard work, and is really an art rather than a prescribed formula.

  • Change Management is not equivalent to Change Initiatives. Every major Technological, Organizational or Cultural Change Initiative may be, or may be precieved as, an Opportunity and/or a Risk. The major challenge is resistence. Many employees preceive it as a Risk of loosing their power or even their job. For example, a new major Technology implies loosing their edge in the previous technology and a necessity to study and understand the new concepts. Few employees preceive it as an Opportunity to learn new concepts which may help them in future positions in the organization or in other organizations. The Challenge is to minimize the resistence to Change by protecting those, who preceive it as a Risk.
    As far as Change Management is concerned, the reasons for failures are more technical: improper Technologies, improper Adoption Processes and improper Management.

  • In the end it all boils down to a lack of "buy-in".

    Either that initiative you are running is so vain that it really deserves nothing short of resistance or you haven't sold it enough.

  • Avi Rosenthal’s opening sentence is fundamental – I assume that the question related rather to the failure of change initiatives.
    I believe that this has to do with a general demographic evolution – the rise of Y’s and following generations – which is not accompanied by the timely evolution of relevant management and collaboration practices (which is still the prerogative of boomers and X’ers).
    Change was always a difficult process to manage, and one would expect that the accelerated change with which the younger workforce grew up would facilitate organization change.
    So probably one of the first priorities is to evolve the organizational perception of change and the way it accommodates it (how about enterprise social networking?).

  • Good question. We've often found that change doesn't happen because of poor communication.

    We try to solve this by instilling in people the discipline of constantly asking the right questions; WHAT exactly are we trying to do? HOW exactly will we change it? And most importantly WHY. This can then be communicated so everyone has a common, shared understanding - this is the foundation on which we then build our change initiatives (i.e. everything we do is aligned to this and then constantly monitored / adjusted to ensure we are achieving what we set out to do).

    Sounds obvious. Yeah, it's not rocket science, it just needs a little thought and organization... all too often we come across people that operate in a very reactive and chaotic way - they lose sight of what they started out to achieve and just get more and more buried in doing stuff - they seem to be working very, very hard to solve problems, but they are not necessarily doing the right things or solving the right problems!

    Some people do this stuff naturally, but for those that don't (me included!) I've found a tool that can really help; www.whycode.com.


  • There are many key points around change management to be taken into consideration when instigating change that is why people prefer to either move people or make them resign so that they can get new people in to do the job. It takes a lot of effect to change norms and values among staff.


  • There are many key points around change management to be taken into consideration when instigating change. It is unfortunate that many people prefer to either move people or make them resign so that they can get new people in to do the job. It takes a lot of effect to change norms and values among staff.


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