The state of change today

January 27, 2011 § 39 Comments

The_Butterfly_Place_67 by Talking Tree. Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.

No matter what we do today, be it work, home or in the community we are all dealing with change every moment of every day.

When I googled why org change fails I got about 156,000,000 results (0.34 seconds).  This tells me that it’s a subject  that we as a society are struggling with.

I began working in change about 20 years ago, funnily enough we were struggling with the same things then. We had some great wins thanks to insightful leaders and committed and talented people (you know who you are), and of course some not so successful ones due to not so insightful or courageous leaders.  I have always had the blessing of being able to surround myself with awesome people who are also keen to make a difference.

There is definitely a pattern here, where leadership is key to success, as is commitment to making a difference. What do I mean by leadership? To me leadership is not about “management” or just the people who get the big bucks like senior leaders. Leadership is about anyone in a given situation who is able to lead through their role no matter what their position within the organisation.

During the last 20 years I have moved in and out of the change space, but no matter what I do it is always connected through that change lens.

One challenge that many of us have, especially if you are located within an “organisational system” is helping leaders at all levels in the organisation understand the need to attend to how change is implemented within an organisation, be it around structure, process or systems.

Too often the reasons given are:

  • we cant afford the resources,
  • we don’t have the time to do all that stuff
  • …and so many more

The questions that those responses bring up for me are:

  • Can organisations actually afford not to deal with the issues necessary to bring your people on the change journey?
  • Can organisations afford not taking the time to engage their people in the change?
  • In short, what is the risk of taking these choices, to the success of the initiative?

Lets look at some of the stats that are readily available today that help us understand the consequences of those choices:

  • Research shows that 70 – 80% of all change initiatives studied fail
  • This rises to 90% failure rate for culture change programmes
  • When you drill down deeper only 6% of change management projects are completely successful – 32% are ‘mostly’ successful :S
  • Fewer than 34% of major reorganizations produced any meaningful improvement in performance. Some actually destroyed value!

Looking at these statistics – how do you get stakeholders to sit up and take notice of the importance of doing effective change management? How do you get them to understand that when they respond in the old way, they are actually making a choice? How do you help them understand the real consequences of that choice on the success of their initiative? I’m currently working on a project to assist with addressing these challenges, that will enable you to get to a place where you can put forward an alternative approach to the business. One designed to maximise the success of the initiative, to help move you toward the 6% of fully successful projects. I look forward to sharing it with you as it develops.

So the state of change today is the same as the state of change 20 years ago…what are we going to do about it? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments and some robust conversations as we work to change the state of change.  Also, if you have any stats on change we would love to have you share them here.

Beer, M & Nohria, N (2000), Cracking the code of change, Harvard Business Review, May-June, pp. 133-141.
Blenko, M, Mankins, MC & Rogers, P (2010), The key to successful corporate reorganization,
McKinsey (2006). Organizing for successful change management: A McKinsey global survey. McKinsey.

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