Why organizational change efforts typically fails

I came across Ken Blanchard’s “Leading at higher level (2009)” this morning and the table below caught my attention.

Table – Predictable reasons why change efforts typically fail

1 People leading the change think that announcing the change is the same as implementing it.
2 People’s concerns with change are not surfaced or addressed.
3 Those being asked to change are not involved in planning the change.
4 There is no compelling reason to change. The business case is not communicated.
5 A compelling vision that excites people about the future has not been developed and communicated.
6 The change leadership team does not include early adopters, resisters, or informal leaders.
7 The change is not piloted, so the organization does not learn what is needed to support the change.
8 Organizational systems and other initiatives are not aligned with the change.
9 Leaders lose focus or fail to prioritize, causing “death by 1,000 initiatives”
10 People are not enabled or encouraged to build new skills.
11 Those leading the change are not credible. They under-communicate, give mixed messages, and do not model the behaviors the change requires.
12 Progress is not measured, and/or no one recognizes the changes that people have worked hard to make.
13 People are not held accountable for implementing the change.
14 People leading the change fail to respect the power of the culture to kill the change.
15 Possibilities and options are not explored before specific change is chosen.

Most, if not all of us, reading through the list would be reminded of personal experience of failed change efforts (some painful ones for many people) sometime in our careers. We can easily pick the reasons from the list above as to why the change effort failed.

In one case, I went through a major divisional change (restructuring) effort that involved laying off several people – at manager and staff level, and not once did the CEO address the people in the division personally, and his office is on the same floor (point 11). Many key people choose not to stick around to see how the restructuring ended; there was no need to – there was a credibility issue.

It would more useful here if we also ask the question – “Why is it that failed change efforts happen so often in the first place?” Are there some root-causes for failed change efforts? Many would answer and point to the point the CEO and the executive team leading the change effort. But then, digging deeper, what is it about the CEO and the executive team that could not prevent the change effort from failing?

I think that it ultimately comes down to the question of “lead more and manage less” – between leading people and managing or controlling things. Executive managers know a whole lot more about the important ‘things’ in organizational success, but a lot less about “people” – what makes people tick. “We learn about things, not the nature of things”, says Kevin Cashman (from ‘Leadership from inside out’). The slogan ‘people are our most important asset’ suggests that many senior executives miss the point and treat people more as assets (as in things) than as the ‘human nature of being’. This is one of the root causes of change effort failure – the inability of the CEO and the executive team to see that the true heroes of change effort are the people (people’s nature) and their creative force to make or break the change effort.

Great leaders create great organizations because they gather together a leadership team that learns how to empower people, instead of controlling people. Change efforts in great organizations succeed in a great part because of this.

(Also recommended reading – “The 8th Habit – from effectiveness to greatness” by Stephen Covey)

Peter Leong

11 May 2013