I think that many of us have seen that a lot of change programmes have a high rate of failure - I believe the commonly reported failure rate is somewhere around...
In most cases this is simply because people are naturally afraid of what that change might mean for them, so they actively resist it - even if in reality it may in fact be a very positive thing for them directly!
If your organisation is embarking on a transformation programme (and there is probably a 100% chance of that as the digital age turns current business models on their head) then the interview Overcoming the Fear of Change published on the Gallup Management Journal provides some really good insights into why so many change initiatives do fail.
The point it makes about the critical role of the change sponsor(s) is a very good one, as time and time again I think we have all seen change initiatives fail simply because it seemed like no-one really cared about them, and the sponsor (typically a senior manager) isn't visible in walking the talk on why the change makes sense, and why it is a good thing.
If, for example, the CEO isn't as visible as they need to be around an initiative, David says people look around at those managing the change process and think, "Well, I see you talking about this change, but I don't hear the CEO talking about it. Why isn't he/she out here? Why aren't leaders telling their people this is important? Why are you the face of this, and why have they gone quiet?". Sound familiar? If the sponsor is unwilling or unable to play their required role, that is a strong signal that the change has never been that important.
And then, as David rightly points out, many employees will simply think...
"I'm going to wait this change initiative out. I've seen these come and go. I've seen leaders come and go. I've heard these words and phrases before. I'm not going to get excited about this, because I know it's not going to last." That's the worst situation you can be in: when you desperately need to make a major change and nobody believes you because you've cried wolf too many times.
“We start change programs, but we never seem to finish them properly” is another common frustration voiced, and a big reason why there is so much cynicism about change programmes, and that the world of change management is sadly riddled with failure. Basically it been made into something that people should fear, rather than embrace knowing it will be good for everyone.
In many cases I think a lot of organisations also mistake change management for an 'org chart' restructuring instead of restructuring what’s in peoples heads - the mindsets that influence everything they do and whether they buy into, and support, change.
This article What’s so hard about managing change and becoming more agile? is also a nice read as it also shares many of the the reasons why change is so prone to failure. I like the authors summation of what is required to make change management work.
"To truly embed innovation and agility, we have to be able to collaborate, work across boundaries within and between organisations, to bring together disparate experiences and perspectives, and to properly empower people to come up with ideas and make change happen. In other words, we have to build different corporate cultures and ways of working."
Again, everything points to culture as the great regulator of success.
The article also has a great chart which looks at the drivers of real change and reinforces the point made in Overcoming the fear of change in that it is the things like the "lack of management commitment, passion and drive, feeling of involvement" that are the greatest barriers to change.
Working in the complex area of culture change, we have heard many times from a range of clients, about how past change initiatives have come and gone without a trace and staff are understandably wary of them. This is one of the reasons why senior leadership engagement and creating sustainability should be such a strong focus of any change programme i.e provide a framework, and build the competency within the organisation, to be able to allow all staff to successfully implement and manage change themselves going forward.
At ON-Brand Partners, our approach is all about helping you build a culture that overcomes the many barriers to successful change. We take into account your particular starting point and the issues and opportunities faced, to ensure the focus is tailored to the areas of greatest need. Each solution could include any of the following components of our Platform for Change, all brought together in our distinctive ON-Brand way.
With the ON-Brand approach, rather than your people saying "this isn't going to last”, instead you'll hear...
'This is good, I want this to last. I want to be part of this change - it makes sense and I'm behind it!'
That's the time when you know the fear and cynicism has gone, excitement for the future ahead begins, and transformation sticks.