Change management in practice: why does change fail?
“Don’t be afraid of change. You may lose something good, but acquire something better” – ancient wisdom
Or you may lose something good AND gain something even worse. Why does nobody ever considers this possibility?
I mean, sure, constant change, whether organizational, cultural or environmental, is the key for growth and success. In fact, if it wasn’t for change, we would probably be hunting mammals all day long while trying to express ourselves with weird gestures and noises in some forest on a continent we wouldn’t be able to give a name to. Change is what made our world into what it is today in terms of technology, innovation and advancement.
Even so, I don’t know about you guys, but I got a few problems with everything going on around this topic.
The whole internet world claims that close to 70% of change initiatives fail. Just Google “why does change fail” and you will get at least 20 results that consistently state this number (or something similar) when it comes to change management and practice. Not only that, but each of those articles have a ton of studies and research to back up those statistics.
Okay sure, if so much research proves that change fails, who am I to object?
But the problem is not the failure itself. The problem is the “why”.
Huffington post suggests that change fails for three reasons:
1. Change consultants are insufficiently equipped on a personal level
2. Most change models are incomplete
3. Capacity is widely overlooked, on all levels
You know what this sounds like? It sounds like change managers suggest a change but have no idea or means to make it happen, don’t know how to proceed from point A to point Z and even manage to overlook the capacity of their team, meaning that nobody has enough time to help with the changing process. On all levels.
Is it possible to fail on so many levels at once? Sure it can happen in a few rare cases, but 70% of the time? If change managers can’t plan their actions and fail to communicate with their team about it, how on earth did those people become managers in the first place?
It gets spicier.
Projectsmart suggests some other (though somewhat similar) reasons why change fails:
Unclear change reasons and overall objectives – This sounds childish: I want this, but I don’t know why or how to do it
The organization had not been prepared and the internal team resisted the change – Something tells me that if you try to change a few hundred people’s lives without bothering to tell them, they will probably have a thing or two to say about it.
The leaders were not ready for the style of management change that the change was to bring with itself as the new norm – Again, how can you not be ready for something that you planned yourself?
The company had chosen a change methodology that did not suit the business – Well, that’s why you probably need to think beforehand, right?
The leaders set the strategic directions for the change and then backed away (something called Distance Transformation), leaving the actual change to other, less motivated, people – It’s like hosting a dinner party and telling the guests to prepare everything themselves once they arrive at your house.
An overwhelming amount of content on the web suggests that most of the times people feel skeptical about change and plan to just “lay low and do nothing” because: change will totally result in failure. It’s just a waste of time and, if they wait a while, everything will be back to normal.
But… why? Change should be a good thing for everyone in the first place, especially for team members. Change should be something that comes from the heart, because something good will be achieving in the end, something that will benefit everybody on all levels. How do you fail to communicate this?
I think it’s time to deploy our secret weapon. I don’t see any other way of dealing with this problem. Yeah, you’re thinking in the right direction. Time for some #Logic.
In order to maximize the chances of making your change initiative a success and not to end up in the “70% bullshit” department, there are a 3 things to consider:
Is change needed at all?
It’s true that change is essential for any organization to grow and achieve success. But the thing is that the right time for change is different for everybody. Before jumping into change initiatives, you need to figure out if your company really needs that change or not. Maybe things are just fine the way they are, and forcing something upon your whole company, while having no real facts to state as “why” isn’t going to work out well?
You should first figure out whether you and your team are ready/in need for change, before jumping into it blindly just because somebody great said “change is needed for success”.
Define what exactly will be achieved with change and why it’s important
Identify the objectives and goals of your change clearly, before starting to do anything. It’s kind of like planning, only planning for the future of your company. Remember the golden rule of communication: others don’t know what you have in your head. You need to show them exactly what you are thinking, how do you see change taking place and why it’s a good thing to begin with.
Does everybody support your idea?
When you have clearly identified the reasons for an upcoming change and the actual benefits that it will bring to your company, team members and individuals, you need communicate before starting to do anything.
People need to know why they are doing something in order for it to have a positive effect. Change is often associated with uncomfortable times ahead and there is a good chance that people will have to do more work, spend more time at the office or basically take a bigger responsibility upon themselves than their typical, everyday stuff.
Communicate your thoughts and ideas and show everyone how exactly will they benefit from change and make it clear to them that their efforts will be worth it in the end, not wasted. This will help ensure you have the support of your internal team, which is essential for any change initiatives and keep you safe from skeptic thoughts like “we aren’t going anywhere with this”, “we won’t do anything and all will be fine”.
Only jump into change when you are sure you have the internal support, and for heaven’s sake be in charge of the whole thing from the first minute like you are supposed to be. Don’t suddenly walk out on your team members like in the examples above.
People can be lazy, they can be unwilling to do anything more than what’s in their job description, they might even pretend to be stupid just to escape more work.
But if can show what they will earn at the end of the day (assuming the benefits are worth it) they will side with you. Building a solid future is a hard and sometimes a deadly task, but if you can involve each and every one into the process, you will be just fine.
Don’t get me wrong. There is still a chance that change initiatives will fail (for various, unfathomable reasons), but there is a difference between failing on your own and failing together. When you fail singlehandedly, it’s your fault and your fault alone. When you fail as a team, you get the chance to share the blame, sit down, review everything and understand what you should have done differently to make it all happen.
Pavel is a doctor who happens to have an MBA degree and a strong passion for writing. "I am a do-it-all kind of person: When I am not writing, I am busy curing people, when I am not curing people, I tend to kill WCG competitions. Life is fun, and full of wonders: Do what you enjoy most, even if it’s everything at once."