Why Do 70% of All Change Efforts Fail?What do you think? What would it take to put yourself, your organization inthe 30%? Click the link to share your thoughts on this topic. See what others had to say and add your voice to ARVoices!Read the comments below and add yours…Admin2018-06-28T22:37:41-04:00Thursday, June 23, 2011| 6 Comments Arthur Lerner June 24, 2011 at 7:20 amI also agree with and support Larry’s comments. At this time, rather than supplement them or add to them I want to depart and raise issues from other perspectives.First, Russell Ackoff famously wrote and taught about “messes” in terms of the nature of improvement challenges in open systems. This raises, among other things, issues of whether there is a “root cause” or a defined change plan that can work. Years before his article I attended a workshop with Virginia Satir, who was both one of the observed sources for creation of NLP and a core founder of what became family therapy (i.e. a systems approach to what initially showed up as a problem person). After doing some real time (successful) work in the round she was asked how she knew where to start. She replied by describing a filthy kitchen: piled dishes, excess trash, food rotting in the fridge, deeply iced/frozen freezer, sticky floor, and more. She then added, that you start where it makes sense, and each step will lead to a best next step, and sometimes you have to re-do/revisit what later seems either incomplete or “contaminated” by subsequent effort. There were guidelines, e.g. better to start from top down, and to be informed from previous experience, but the “rules” were deeper and not procedural. (and, btw, if one wants to say that the root cause was someone inherrently sloppy, messy, etc….. knowing that and treating that doesn’t get the kitchen clean, though it may keep it from getting filthy again, which, if you will, only complicates the greater existential “mess.”)Second, how do we know 70% of change efforts fail? How do we distinguish failure? This touches a bit on Larry’s last comment about go on to the next. I have been fortunate to work on a few multi-divisiion or corporate wide change initiatives, following in most cases people with greater wisdom and experience than mine. Two of them were successful enough to be written about extensively by others, including Peters and Waterman. What distinuishes them is that you can look at them as failures or successes. The first, in my opinion, is a war still not won in the compamy though the initial focused change efforts began over twenty years ago, and took place, so to speak, battle by battle, clean up operation by clean up operation, revisits, looping back. and later interventions not dreamed of at the outset. It involved a massive culture and mindset change. Does this mean no improvements were made? Quite the contrary. Whether measures were hard or soft (“morale”, team development, or corporate earnings, improved product quality), all showed nearly continous improvement. I suspect it took over two years before anybody other than the seminar participants, the consultants, and the executive sponsor/champion noticed that anything was happening. I know for a fact that we identified multiple core issues that had to be addressed, but no root cause as opposed to root symptoms. (Ackoff, btw, was one of the people brought in later, and whose thinking influenced what happened.) At the time of starting these efforts the company was viewed as near failure, today it viewed as a beacon of its industry (and nobody who was present as a consultant or senior manager at the outset currently works there today).Third, there is the question of what kind of change we are addressing. While all change has a “human” component and human factors to consider and deal with, some are more technical in nature and more clearly defined end states and changes. IT “trasformations” are exemplars of this, and many of the changes can be planned, sequenced, checked for completion in stages, etc. even with the human factors to be considered. This is less rigorous and predictable for Quality changes, and even less so for cultural ones (w/o even considering the interactive effects among them, the mess and kitchen revisited). This means different approaches in thinking and implementation are required.Finally for now, are issues of competence and commitment on the part of key line champions for change and the counsultants/advisors who help shape and guide it. A lot of learning goes on as any complex change is undertaken, some of it gernalizable, some unique to the situation. Part of that learning is also about limits in terms of time, organizational capacity and attention, pace, and competence. While I have been called in to aid in some massive interventions, at the same time I think I am getting “better” at what I do, I am aware of my limits. An HR exec asked me once why I wasn’t working more at the senior executive level, and I told her that for reasons I couldn’t manage it was beyond my competence… even though several senior execs knew me and respected me. I didn’t have the “chops” in many subjective ways to lead interventions focused at their level. In the fields of OD, Change Management, etc. we don’t have much certification, no formal rankings, and a gentleman’s agreement not to denigrate others. Yet most of tend to know if we are over-reaching. Some, alas, don’t. Even more, we tend to have good senses of how competent of incompetent our colleages are, but do little if anything about it as we see the less capable lead their clients to nearly inevitable “failure” and often able to leave the clients thinking a) it was their fault, or b) that there’s not much of value in the consulting approach as opposed to the specific consultant(s) they used… which has the corrosive element of eroding confidence in the field of expertise overall.This had been long, partially because at the outset I chose to be discursive to elaborate on some points. I wanted to take a more general view here of different kinds of issues and perspectives affecting change initiatives. There is more to be said about specifics in approach to change and making it more successful, and I look forward to other comments to come. ARVoices - Strategic Leadership Network July 3, 2011 at 1:38 pmLarry, you hit on some valid points here. We call it “defining the right outcomes.” There are so many resources (time, energy, and money) expended focusing on the “wrong” outcomes because the upfront work to establish a clear purpose and assess the reasons and issues that will be alleviated gets overlooked. Certainly, this lack of understanding and focus in the beginning contributes to the leader’s inability to communicate appropriately and gain that very much needed buy-in.The fact that you hit on data is critical. Not only is it withheld or inarticulately shared, often times it is not even gathered and analyzed in the first place. Measurement, well we know how little of that often occurs. The haphazardness of it all is a real problem.Thanks for your comments. ARVoices - Strategic Leadership Network July 3, 2011 at 1:47 pmSteve, ditto. Digging down to appropriately determine the pain that is going to be alleviated or the benefits to the organization and its people contributes to success. However, this is where many drop the ball. This involves a lot of upfront work that people all too often decide for whatever reason to skip.When this happens, it is akin to setting out on a trip to some destination without knowing where you are even going. And even when one argues clarity on the destination, there has to be a case made for (1) why you are going, (2) when you need to be there, (3) what you hope to do when you get there, and (4) what will indicate success (the metrics and standards).Sadly, this has been deemed just too much work. Consequently, the changes continue to fail in that they are not sustained even when they do take hold. ARVoices - Strategic Leadership Network July 3, 2011 at 1:52 pm@BCGsolutions yes, we agree. There has to be a real meaningful focus on defining the “right” outcomes and dedicating the resources for data collection and analysis. It is our stance that data in and of itself is of no real value. But when leaders turn that data into intelligence that can be used to support decisions and guide outcome definition, we are really doing good work.No matter now well planned a strategy is (for change or anything else), it needs to move beyond the planning stage. Far too many organizations are planning for the document – not the actual execution. ARVoices - Strategic Leadership Network July 3, 2011 at 2:27 pmArthur, your comments bring up several valid points and we appreciate the approach you took. You opened the door for several issues regarding open systems, fluid processes, the standards for failure, and even the competence level and commitment on the part of the change agents.Open Systems As with you, we have had great success ensuring successful change efforts by subscribing to the open-systems model. Closed systems are defined as those with limited response to and interaction with the external environment whereas open systems (whole systems) are defined as those that exist within a larger environment and are positively or negatively affected by how they respond to and interact with that environment. You make a great point about putting the challenges and changes into the proper context.The likelihood of success is significantly increased when the whole system is considered (the sum of its internal parts as well as the external and environmental factors and forces impacting it). Within the auspices of this OD philosophy, organizations systems seek to transform inputs (e.g. information, people, and technology) into outputs (e.g. products, goods, and services) by managing, coordinating, and organizing processes and evaluating and responding to consumer feedback and needs. To this end, the change team must understand the importance of remaining adaptable to its environment and demonstrate a willingness to modify transformative processes accordingly to ensure value delivery.Fluid Processes The statement you refer to is powerful “start where it makes sense and each step leads to the next best step.” This is so very important to really “see” what is happening and “listen” to what is said before, during and after the change. Regardless of the chosen change methodology, it is ever important to remain flexible and apply a fluid process that aligns and fits with the specific organization and its people.Distinguishing Failure When it comes to knowing that 70% of change efforts fail we relied on the data of several leading researchers and theorists from HRB to Kotter, to Lewin to more recently, Rick Maurer, a renowned change management expert, speaker, and advisor.But what intrigued us was the point you make about “what distinguishes failure” from success. We would assert that success and failure are defined by the organization and its people rather than any external expert or theorist. Whatever the team defines as the outcome is the standard by which failure or success metrics should be based. As you state, many change efforts take a very long time to realize benefit. Regardless of length, we advocate for having a clearly defined outcome with associated metrics and goals outlined. Use this throughout to determine progress toward the outcome and one will know whether or not the change effort was a success or failure.Competence Level and Commitment You really did go there and talk about the dirty little secret in our profession. How confident are we really? Do we have the confident to know when to back out and own up to our own limits? How comfortable are we with admitting that there we may not be the one to lead or consult on a particular change effort. A major determining factor for the success of and long-term sustainability of the change effort is indeed the competence and commitment levels of the sponsor, the individual who initially advocated for and championed the change in the first place. If/when that person flames out, failure will be hard to escape. ARVoices - Strategic Leadership Network July 3, 2011 at 2:45 pmWell Will, this is quite a take on the whole change process. We at ARVis love it and plan to share your example (with credit) everywhere we can because we agree with all of it.Change does begin in the mind (we need to envision the result) and then change our attitude accordingly. Yes, there is a major issue with fear – fear of what one will lose; fear of the unknown; fear of how it will impact self; fear of how it will change the job; fear of success (and so on). Understanding and acknowledging this resistance to change is very important to getting the needed buy in and adds to the likelihood of success.No matter how much we want one, there is no magic pill. Just like with weight loss, we have to actually change our behaviors to do anything else or get anywhere that different from where we are right now. Specific behavior changes must occur.This quote you make is powerful “Behavioral changes address the systemic process that either support or resist change and are the manifestation of attitudes.” The game plan is the STRATEGY. Have one helps people appreciate the small and gradual modifications that need to be made for success rather than adding to the fear and creating false hopes with a magic pill or quick-fix band aid.As OD leaders and change consultants, we have to resist the temptation to give our clients the quick fix or even offer it as a means to get the contract. Tell them the truth and make it doable, but tell them the truth about the hard work that will need to take place and the specific changes that will need to be made to get where they say they want to go.Comments are closed.