According to several change management studies, the failure rate for change projects rests somewhere between 60% and 70%. For example:
These studies clearly show that, despite hundreds of studies on the subject, there has been little to no improvement in change project success rates since John Kotter published his book Leading Change in 1996.
In this article, we examine the need for clarity when undertaking transformational change initiatives and pose six questions your organization should answer to provide that clarity.
Why do change projects fail?
There is no single reason why so many change projects fail to produce the benefits intended. There’s also no set blueprint that can be followed for every change initiative. Different organizations work to different policies, procedures, and processes. They have different cultures, different management hierarchies, and different customer and supplier bases. However, there are some common themes that run through change failures. These include:
- Resistance to change
- Poor leadership (think Jack Welch at GE vs. Ron Johnson at JCPenney)
- Isolated change
- Lack of an integrated strategy
- The organization had not been prepared for change
- Lack of sponsorship and support
- Lack of employee engagement and buy in to the change
When searching for a common thread that may weave all these reasons for failure together, clarity in change management is highlighted by the number of reasons that have communication at their core. For example:
- In “6 Reasons Why Change Programs Fail”, half the reasons cited are communication-based (communication; unclear objectives; lack of performance measures)
- In an article published by Project Smart,"Why Does Change Fail?", the top reason quoted is ‘Not clear about the reasons for the change and the overall objectives’
- In the article, “Why Change Fails”, published by Change Designs, among the top five reasons put forward are ‘ineffective communication’ and ‘mixed messages and confusion’
How do you give your change projects the clarity they need?
When change projects are initiated, there is often a lack of clarity in the communication of scope and purpose of the proposed change. This is typically because the change management team, who are completely at ease with all the whys and wherefores, fail to answer the questions that employees and other stakeholders need answered. Or they do so with change documentation which is pages and pages long, and shrouded in numbers, accounting terms, and technical descriptions that even astrophysicists would find complex.
The result is confusion, resistance, and poor execution of the transformation program. The project is a failure before it starts.
In order to encourage engagement and to jumpstart change, it’s necessary to publish a change document, which is both concisely written and answering key questions, to all stakeholders. These six questions need to be addressed early in the process, before any resistance is allowed to develop and mature:
- Why is this change needed?
- What’s in it for me (the stakeholder)?
- How will this change the organization both in daily activity and culture?
- How will the project be initiated, carried through, and sustained?
- What tools and support will there be for affected stakeholders?
- Where can more information be found (websites; managers; team meetings)?
Of course, your change project document should not be seen as the beginning and end of the communication process.
You’ll need to continue to engage your people, employing their strengths when and where needed, and keep all stakeholders informed of project progress. Do this with clarity, and your transformational change should benefit from inspired leadership, a strong focus of purpose that eliminates resistance, and preparedness for change at every stage of the process.
What team building exercises have other organizations employed successfully? For more information, and to discover how a Change Agent Bootcamp and coaching in consulting and facilitating will help to encourage employee engagement, contact Forward Focus today.