The Failure of Change Management... and How to Fix It
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the overall numbers around successful change initiatives aren't too great...
The latest percentage of successful change management and business transformation projects is hovering around a dismal 22%. That means 78% of well-intended projects fail.
This either will make you feel better that it's not just you…or you're ready to simply throw up the white flag of surrender and declare the Death of Change. It was a great utopian experiment but just like classical liberalism, New Coke, the Cool Ranch Dorito Taco, and political compromise it's a lost cause. RIP. Thanks for the memories.
Or is it?
Let's say you have a new change initiative you're excited to embark on...
You've decided that - going forward - your company Wild World of Widgets (or W3 for short) is going to transition from Yellow to Blue widgets.
Now, this decision wasn't made on a whim. There was a:
- 9-month color change committee that met daily to discuss options
- An extensive market research analysis to identify the top 5 colors demanded by your market
- A thorough 3-month+ vendor selection process to determine the best color widget manufacturer
- A detailed implementation, training, and communication marketing plan for both internal and external stakeholders
You presented this monumental change to your teams, and all they hear is this…
- You did the research!
- The data undeniably back up the decision. Doesn't the market clearly support that Blue is undoubtedly the best color to attract new clients and keep existing ones happy?
- Did you not create a perfectly organized, coordinated, well-timed, and properly-executed messaging and training campaign?
And yet, surprisingly (or really, unsurprisingly if we're being honest) your announcement fell flat, adoption was low, or the entire initiative ended up getting delayed, postponed, or outright abandoned.
As leaders, project managers, and consultants we often come up with a variety of system, software, process, or project missteps to blame. But, the truth is those are almost always not the reason for failure.
So, what's the real reason only 22% of change projects are successful?
Change Management Misses the Mark
Often, when you hear the term “Change Management”, it focuses on the tactical aspects of a project: the individual tasks and to-do's, the communication plan, the training, the business changes that will occur, and the processes that will be impacted.
Change Management, by its very name and intent, is focused on MANAGING the change of a THING in order to reduce risk or revolt - whatever that THING is (be it person, place, animal, vegetable, snack choice, color of widgets).
But, if we look at a few of the common reasons for change project failure, they almost never have to do with the CHANGE itself. Some of the most common reasons cited by teams include:
- Lack of understanding of what was being done and WHY
- Not feeling as though the change would benefit THEM (aka, "What’s in it for Me")
- Overwhelm and burnout - either due to lack of resource support in the project or simply poor time, process, or people management
- Ineffective Communication
It’s not a bad or ill-intended idea. Nor was the communication necessarily wrong or lacking. Rather, some of the primary barriers to successful change are centered around how the individual person or team feels about the change.
- Does it make sense to me?
- How does it affect me?
- What about its impact on me, my team, my role, or my department?
- Can I not even fathom taking on something new with my already over-burdened workload...or lack of “Work-Life Balance”?
- Do I not trust the messaging or the presumed real reason being presented by my leaders?
Ok, ok. I know what you're thinking…
"But everything we did was in consideration of how it would make our employees/teams/customers feel!
We offered constant reassurances of how the change may or may not impact THEM!
We had hard data! It's what our clients/the market/our advisors recommended as the best course of action to help us achieve our goals and serve our industry!"
And that, my friends, is both highly considerate...and a complete waste of time.
Why? Because - despite any effort you spend trying to MANAGE people's reaction to CHANGE, you have ZERO CONTROL over how they choose to respond to it. That is 100% based on how they view the world, your company, their job, and - most importantly - themselves (and their beliefs, their values, their past experiences, and judgments).
In fact, research has shown that when we are presented with facts contrary to our beliefs, we tend to question the evidence rather than our own preconceived notions.
So then, what's the remedy? If you did everything change management protocols recommended, what else can you do?
- Do you simply say 'screw it!' and tell your stakeholders that "This is happening, take it or leave it!"?
- Do you try to devise a way to 'sneak' it in, through smaller, less noticeable 'tweaks' you hope go unnoticed or that are low-risk 'quick wins'?
- Do you not bother trying to implement future initiatives at all? I mean, change is hard so why bother, right? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Stop Managing Change. Create a Culture of Change Preparedness.
What if I told you you didn't have to do ANY of those things? In fact, the idea of having to even MANAGE a change at all would be easy or even unnecessary. You could simply decide, communicate, discuss, and move forward. Essentially, replacing the concept of Change MANAGEMENT to Change PREPARATION, creating a culture built on the idea of continual change. Where opportunities to improve, adapt, adjust, and grow are simply part of your company's DNA.
So, how do you shift from a company focused on Change Management to change as part of your culture?
Here on the Painted Porch, we believe all change starts and ends with YOUR PEOPLE. Before you embark on any change initiative (large or small), it's taking a little bit of time up-front preparing your people for the demands, dialogue, and decisions that will be asked of and from them. It involves 3 key principles and focus areas that, together, can create a healthy organization ready, willing, and even excited for change:
Painted Porch Principle #1: Master Your Message
While you may be communicating the right information, it may be broadcasting on the wrong station or frequency, or in the wrong ‘language’.
Crafting your Messaging for your audience to not only understand, but accept and - dare we say - even get excited about can have a HUGE impact on your project’s success. Through understanding the elements of successful communication, you can eliminate unproductive meetings, get buy-in and support, inspire others to action, and create lasting impact and change.
Painted Porch Principle #2: Develop Radical Mindfulness
When we talk about Mindset, it’s understanding how to approach and handle the ups and downs of life, both individually and when working with your fellow humans. It’s beefing up your emotional resilience to better stave off overwhelm and burnout. It’s learning how to turn obstacles into opportunities and solutions for change and growth….or as we like to say, turn Lemons into delicious Limoncello.
Painted Porch Principle #3: Create Extraordinary Teams
By focusing on flexibility, trust, feedback, and accountability, Teams discover ways to question stale ways of thinking, challenging one another through healthy conflict. Through understanding how each member of a team can succeed and struggle, teams can shift from disconnected or dysfunctional to cohesion and mission-focused, mutually supportive collaboration.
Our programs are designed to prepare your organization for lasting change and growth - starting from the inside-out. We help you construct a solid strategic and operational foundation that will support any new initiative, regardless of size and impact.
There is untapped potential and power in your employees to:
- Stand strong and resilient among the obstacles in life and work
- Develop productive, trusting collaborations
- and communicate effectively, confidently, and with impact.
As Zig Ziglar once said, “You don’t build a business. You build people, and people build the business”.
Great companies invest in developing their people. When your people are strong, your business will thrive.
Now, will this work 100% of the time? No. As Benjamin Franklin so accurately once uttered, "in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." However, with failure rates of up to 78% now, even an improvement of 10% is better than what's considered 'the norm' today. If the old way isn’t working, shouldn't you consider exploring (to quote Monty Python) “something completely different”?
So, come join us on The Painted Porch. Together, you can be prepared for any pivot or pressure, and be a great place to work - where your employees show up strong, flexible, and focused...where change is embraced as an opportunity, not an obstacle.
Schedule a time for us to chat. Let's devise a strategy for empowering your people and preparing your organization for whatever changes are presented to you big or small.
These last few years have been a constant pelting of lemons...let’s start making some delicious Limoncello.