Managing change is challenging. A 2013 Strategy&/Katzenbach Centre survey of global senior executives on culture and change management, the success rate of major change initiatives is only 54 percent. This is embarrassingly low, when the price of change is so high.
Why does change management fail? In this article, we list 5 common ways that organizational change fails.
1) Strategic shortcomings
Successful change management starts with a sound strategy.
• What do you want to change?
• What are the expected outcomes?
• Whom will it impact?
• What is the timeline?
• Who should we involve?
• Will everyone be emotionally connected to the cause?
• How will the change be communicated? Is the message simple and authentic?
• What threats stand in the way of implementing the change?
Without a documented change process or a way to system of record progress, your plan can get interpreted or lost. You need to have the right plan and tools to ensure the right performance and progress. Companies should also consider potential obstacles before kicking off transformation efforts. This can save massive future headaches and/or eventual failure. SWOT analysis framework can be used to start formatting your strategy.
2) Lack of vision
Diligent management is required to carry out the functions that support the vision for change. Lack of vision can hinder or even de-rail the change management process.
“In every successful transformation effort that I have seen, the guiding coalition develops a picture of the future that is relatively easy to communicate and appeals to customers, stockholders, and employees.” - John P Kotter, HBR
Without a unified vision, it’s easy for a change initiative to get lost. Management must be able to cement their visions in a simple and powerful narrative that describes the direction of where the work is headed.
3) Lack of buy-in
Successful change management initiatives need senior management buy-in. This goes beyond verbiage. Leaders need to lead by example.
Senior management should also not be reluctant to allow their A players to join change efforts - companies must free up and support their best staff as they design and implement changes. A weak transformation task force that either has the wrong people and/or little to no leadership is a huge barrier to change.
It is also important to note that buy-in doesn’t begin and stop at senior management. Companies often underestimate the role that managers and entry-level employees can play in change initiatives. Companies need to find influential change agents at all levels. These employees will be the role models to their direct reports, peers, and managers. Without the right mix of subject matter experts and pioneers for change, it will be hard for transformation initiatives to seamlessly unfold.
One tip that we recommend is to involve your stakeholders early on and get their feedback. This can create a more unified change management team and give the team ownership in the initiative.
Research by Towers Watson shows that “only two-thirds (68%) of senior managers say they are getting the message about the reasons behind major organizational decisions. Below the senior management level, the message dwindles further. Only half (53%) of middle managers and 40% of first-line supervisors say their management does a good job of explaining reasons behind major decision.”
Miscommunication can be the root of many process change failures. Executives need to make sure they are communicating the right message and that they are communicating the message frequently across the organization. Communicating change via newsletters, emails, internal communication software, town halls, social media channels, team meetings, and individual 1-on-1s can help employees better understand and support the transformation.
5) Low levels of trust and alignment
When there is little trust or accountability in an organization, you will have a hard time getting employees to support change initiatives or even listen to the message. Trust and alignment begin with transparency. Communication and progress updates should be well communicated. If there are roadblocks, these also need to be communicated. Transparency is two-ways, companies should also consider feedback from everyone on the team and give them a platform to share their thoughts and opinions.
Mastering change management can be difficult. But with careful planning, initiatives can be successfully implemented. Partnering with a project management company that understands and has lead change management initiatives can help. Iota Consultants can also help - feel free to reach out.