Why do change initiatives fail to deliver the expected results?
It does not matter how many books you have read or how many change management projects you have been involved in. Some are successful. Some change initiatives fail. The real question is, can we identify failure early before any damage is done? And what can we do to reduce our change initiative from failing?
What does research say about change initiatives failing?
The HBR claims that 70% of change initiatives fail, Gallup claim similar levels of change failure. Both agree that change does not have to fail. Their research looked at large multi-national businesses, and the reasons for failure. Both broadly drew the conclusion that it was manager capability that was the biggest weakness. But is that really true?
But what about more typically sized businesses. Businesses where leaders cannot hide behind large functions and legions of levels of management? Are the reasons for change failure the same? Can we learn from the more agile smaller businesses that cannot afford failure at the rate of the larger firms?
Research carried out within the Business Link organisation in the late 1990s and Warwick University looked at many small and medium sized businesses with the view of identifying why management development strategies did not work. In summary the conclusions were:
- Activity not linked to organisational objectives
- No overall strategy for corporate development
- Corporate culture not taken into account
- Purchasers not clear about what they are buying
- Suppliers finding solutions to problems they can solve
- Lack of evaluation
- Time pressures on managers
- Change process not managed
- Lack of (appropriate) ownership
These factors were found to be true for: training, organisational development, change and business support and improvement activity. See why change management fails to deliver for more information on each of these.
Where are we now?
When change programmes are started it is usually with some sort of destination in mind. Often that destination is about a specific end goal. Introduction of a new IT system (ERP, CRM etc). Sometimes the goal is about reducing costs. Entering a new market.
The change or goal states the “end result”, but often does not articulate the “where are we now?“. It is a little like trying to find yourself a route to a destination using a satnav, but without knowing where you are starting from. As crazy as this sounds, its a common error which leads to the problems listed above.
Actually that is not quite true, for much like the satnav, we do know where we are… BUT we forget the set the right vehicle. if walking you can take routs not available by car. If by car there are places you cannot access. If a truck, then there will be restrictions to where you can go and when. The vehicle is much like the culture in the organization.
How do you know where you are now? What organizational diagnostic tools have you used?
It’s all about the culture!
Many professionals involved in change management, projects, and organizational development talk glibly about changing culture. Indeed changing culture or “the way we do things here” is often one of the stated goals in many change projects.
WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE
It is not easy to change culture. WORSE. It is impossible unless all of the senior leaders fully agree and “go there first”. Culture is often not tangible. It is what the senior leaders and key influences say and do on a regular basis.
Every day actions to reduce failure in corporate culture initiatives
There is no point for example trying to empower people to take responsibility for things like improving customer service if you annual appraisal process wont allow you to reward all that participated. If you want change, then you need to look at all the systems of enablers and barriers to the change.
LEAN, Customer First and other corporate culture initiatives
Around the world, many firms aspire to improve what they do by introducing ways of working like LEAN, Customer First, Investors In People etc. The principles of these things are fine. BUT often the people looking to introduce the change look at the end result, and forget the journey. Where are they starting from? What vehicle do they have to get from a-b.
The culture of your business might be “Formula 1” like, or it may be “Digger” like. Both vehicles are great at what they do. But put a racing car on a construction site and it wont go very far for very long. equally put a digger on a grand-prix track and it wont break many records.
If you want to avoid your corporate culture or change initiatives failing then check the list at the top of this article. Do you have a strategy for each? Are they fully aligned?
Is the tool you are looking to use aligned with the culture of the organization?