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CHANGE MANAGEMENT: Why 70% of Change Initiatives Fail

John Kotter, renowned author and change management guru, reported in his book, Leading Change, that 70% of change initiatives in organizations and businesses fail.  That is an extraordinarily depressing figure when we also hear that the only constant in life these days is change.  Does that mean that we’re all doomed to fail 70% of the time?  Are we in a catch-22:  stuck between failing to change and changes that fail?

If we approach change with this statistic in mind, it should cause us to think about not only the specific change we are trying to achieve (new product, new processes, new policies, new procedures, new staff members), but also to focus on precisely how we plan to manage the change.  This is the key that is so often forgotten.  We get an idea for change in our heads and then begin thinking about how to achieve it without spending adequate time on the road map for moving from our “as is” to our “to be” in the most successful way possible.

Years ago, Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher suggested that change should follow a clear formula that they described as D x V x  F > R.  Managing the change needs to follow the formula in the order presented.  The D stands for clearly identifying Dissatisfaction with Status Quo.  In other words, how troublesome is the current state of affairs?  If the case for change hasn’t been made strongly enough, the Dissatisfaction will fizzle as soon as the change gets tough.  How many times have you started a diet or exercise program (I know I have), only to abandon it when it’s too hard to wake up at 5 a.m. and hit the tread mill?  We often recommend that leaders actually write out a one or two page Case for Change document detailing why the change must occur.

The Case for Change addresses questions such as:

1. What is the background for the change?  What has led up to this need to change?
2. What challenges or problems are we facing in the current situation that will cripple us if we don’t begin addressing them today?  What is the impact of these challenges?
3. What will happen if we stay the same?  Why should we act now?
4. What are we going to have to let go of and why?
5. What will the change require?  What will it cost us to change?  What will it cost us if we don’t change?
6. How will we know when we have succeeded?

Why Most Change Fails
Most change initiatives fail because the Case for Change has not been made strongly enough and communicated sufficiently to all stakeholders in the change process.  Often it’s only leaders and managers who understand why the change is important.  We suggest that every manager be able to articulate the Case for Change in a 2-minute “elevator speech” (a 2-minute dynamic summary for why the change is an imperative that can be communicated in the time it takes to ride the elevator with someone who is challenging the change initiative).

Creating a Compelling Vision
Once the Case for Change is in place, the next step in the formula is to articulate a Compelling Vision (the V) for what the change will look like when it’s fully implemented.  John Kennedy was the master of vision statements when he challenged America to “land a man on the moon within the decade.”  Pretty succinct, huh?  The vision needs to be so clear that everyone gets it.  No management mumbo-jumbo; no statistics that are meaningless to most people; no negative visioning.  The vision needs to capture our imagination so clearly in our minds’ eye that we know exactly what it will look like when we get there.

Most change initiatives don’t define the line in the-sand that will let us know when we’re successful.  We often see this with organizations wanting to implement teams.  First of all, being a team is not a vision – it’s a means to the end.  The vision is a clear target –like a bull’s eye – that steers our course.  As Tom Peters said long ago, the vision is a compass in a wild and stormy sea.  Think about a change initiative you are planning to begin.  Has the vision of what the change will achieve been clearly defined for everyone involved?

The Caution Around First Steps
In most cases, the focus has instead been on the F – or First Steps.  When we get the bug to start a change process, it’s so tempting to start making things happen.  “Let’s form a committee or team and brainstorm ideas.”  The problem with beginning with First Steps is the impact First Steps have on the R in the formula, or Resistance.  You see, when we take First Steps we wake up the Resistance and the race is on.  They start to complain and exaggerate why the change is no good, and without our Case for Change (the D) or our compelling vision (the V), we have no immediate, consolidated approach to respond to the Resistance.

Resistors To Change
It’s important to remember that strong resistors only make up about 8-15% of any total group; a similar percentage exists on the other side as change champions.  Then sitting in the middle of our bell curve are those people who might be described as “bystanders,” on the side lines waiting to see how the change will go.  The race is on when we initiate change to get these bystanders over to the positive side.  However, without the Case for Change or the Compelling Vision, we have little to convince the Bystanders other than a few first, fumbling steps in the direction of change.  It doesn’t take long for the Resistor to point out the negatives and win the Bystander over.  Remember, people are more persuaded by loss than they are by gain.  The Resistor speaks of Fear and what we will lose.  The change champion speaks of Opportunity and what we will gain.  Research has proven that Fear will always trump Opportunity when presented side by side.

How To Make Your Change Successful
In order to be successful with our change initiative, we must lay down the Case for Change months before any change will even take place.  It must be understood by every stakeholder in the change process.  Then we articulate a compelling vision of our “to be” that becomes a rallying point for the future.  With these two in place, we generate quick first steps, set milestones and targets and publicize our successes.  The only negotiable is the speed of the change, not the change itself.

Recently I was speaking with an organizational leader who planned to implement a new performance management system for several thousand employees.  He commented that he didn’t really see the need to communicate much about the change, but instead planned to leave it to the next level of management to address the change departmentally.  Others nodded their heads in agreement with the plan, stating that most people probably understood the new performance management system and would learn about it over time.  Think for a moment about Kotter’s 70% failure statistic and Gleicher’s D x V x F > R and ask yourself whether you’d agree with this leader’s game plan. Would you predict this change to be on the 30% that succeed, or the 70% that fail?



If you like this, you may like these:
Thriving Through Change: Change Intelligence

Your Personality Determines How You React To Change

Why Change Initiatives Fail

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