The Top Reason Change Projects Fail – and What You Can Do About It

By Louise Harris posted 03-13-2018 10:16


This content is part of the upcoming Strategic Change by Design Certificate Course (Learn More / Register)

Your organization is implementing new technology that has promises to improve customer service, or open new markets, or reduce cost. Or perhaps you are improving processes or restructuring to become more efficient or more effective. Are you at risk of encountering one of the top reasons that organization change fails?

“Impacted employees don’t understand the strategy and don’t commit or follow through”

You know that “start with why” is critical to promoting successful adoption of the change. Your organization has clearly communicated why this change is occurring – to gain new customers, reduce cost, improve service, etc. So now you are focused on ensuring employees buy in and working on minimizing employee resistance. But, the secret sauce is that there are multiple levels to the answering the “why change” question. You need to address each of these levels to achieve employee buy in.

Employees need to understand the full change strategy and their role in it.

What are the components of a full change strategy that you need to ensure employees understand?

  • The change drivers – new opportunities, changing customer expectations, internal cost or resource pressures, etc.
  • The change outcomes – gain new customers, improve service, reduce cost, reduce effort, etc.

Yes, good so far. These have been communicated. But what else? The two additional change strategy components employees need to understand are:

  • Why is what we are changing going to achieve those change outcomes?
  • How do my actions impact the achievement of those change outcomes?

Think about the change that is occurring or being planned in your organization. Can you succinctly explain how the changes you need to make will contribute to the change outcomes? Do you know which actions you will need to change and what those action changes might look like? In most cases, it is impossible for change leaders to effectively and accurately work out and communicate this level of detail to all impacted stakeholders. So, what do you do?

Engage employees to flesh out the change strategy by cascading participation down through middle management and to every impacted employee.

This may take more up-front effort and managers may need to be trained or assisted to facilitate this discovery process with their staff. But it is more than worth it. If you do this, the change has a much higher probability of successful adoption across everyone. Your organization will have the structure and processes, and employees will have the expertise, to quickly evaluate, optimize, and adjust the change after implementation, resulting in better outcomes. As an added bonus, the expertise developed by collaborating in fleshing out a change strategy will contribute towards enhanced organization agility and resilience, and less up-front preparation for the next strategic change initiative.

Effective collaboration in fleshing out a strategy will look different and happen differently in each organization. However, there are core principles and common tools that can be applied.

To learn more, check out CMC’s Strategic Change by Design online course modules.

About the Author

Louise A. Harris, CMC, is a strategic change consultant, educator, international speaker, and academic researcher. For over 25 years she has led and advised the development and implementation of innovative technological, process, and organization change initiatives in large and small organizations. She’s worked in various industry sectors including healthcare, finance, education, and transportation. Learn more