Forget Change Management

by Stephen Warrilow
(Clevedon, UK)

Recently I have read 2 blogs by highly respected change practitioners both contemplating why, despite the abundance of knowledge about how to lead and manage change, the failure rate remains at about 70%.

In Forget Change Management Holger Nauheimer argues:

  • Everything is change

  • The terminology is a problem - "change" is a war term

  • Change cannot be managed

  • Models don't work

  • We need to change the way we think about change

In an executive briefing Why 70% of Changes Fail - And What You Can Do About It taken from his latest book "Beyond the Wall of Resistance" Rick Maurer identifies four major reasons why organisational changes fail:

(1) Lack of knowledge

(2) Lack of skill and practice

(3) Hidden conflicts working against change

(4) Culture working against change.

Arguably it isn't the models, concept and body of work on change management and change leadership that is at fault - maybe the problem is twofold:

(1) The knowledge isn't applied, and that is because

(2) Senior people are not accountable for their failures.

Can you imagine the world of civil engineering living with a 70% failure rate? Or many other comparable disciplines, where the cost of failure (by every definition of corporate failure) is so massive that senior execs cannot afford to allow it to happen - so they up their game.

Take the world of M&A which has comparable failure rates (to change management) in terms of shareholder no-value added + straight forward destruction of shareholder value, and where (as with change management) the failure reasons - virtually all cultural and people related - are well researched and documented - but does it make any difference?

Of course not.

Why not?

Because of the fee structure of the "advisors" and the short-term related remuneration of the senior execs.

What's your view?

Comments for Forget Change Management

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Forget Change
by: Ken

Stephen- I pretty much agree with you based on my exposure to an organization that has asked me to talk about change. In my initial interviews, I have seen/heard the 4 issues.

Pragmatic perspectives on change management failure
by: Peter Cully

In response to this, I have some pragmatic responses for this based on my past experience of driving the change management part of a numbers of medium and large projects.

The key areas that go a long way towards explaining why a large portion of projects still fail:

# The cross functional team of areas supporting a project are not consistently involved in determining their resource and budgetary requirements at the outset of a project

# An inadequate resourcing / budget is estimated for the work supplied by each of these cross functional areas

# The support and engagement of middle management in a firm is not actively sought - and these are the key people to get onside to facilitate change

# Inadequate support from across the business for change in a project and in BAU - i.e. change champions are not established to communicate, support and facilitate change on-going

# Metrics to monitor the on-going realisation of benefits from the projects are not established, which enables the CM team to pro-actively re-engage the business in BAU to resolve unsatisfactory trends

# Unsatisfactory communications strategies, which do not allow for adequate / consistent follow up messages to be remitted to stakeholders according to their needs / expectations

# Training modules and support materials are not delivered using an appropriate channel, or are just not assembled well, which leads to downstream issues around competencies and capabilities

# Resistance is not managed well from the outset

# Tremendous pressure from project sponsors to bring forward key change milestones

# Not everyone has been made aware of or understands the value / benefits of a change. This message needs to be repeated several times and consistently during a project - which does not always happen

I hope this helps your thought process?

What has not been seen and felt will be blown
by: Mashapa Job

I wholly agree with the above comments on why change fails. Yes those attributes and behaviours result in failure of change management projects.

However, I feel there is need to go deep into investigating why:

# The pockets of resistance cannot be dealt away with

# Why there is no effective communication

# Why management fail to have an emotional commitment to the change project (as would, for example, civil engineers) because of the lack of tangible traceable failures

I suggest the reason why all the above factors are impacting on change is grounded on the approach and philosophical lens through which change is undertaken.

For change to be successfully managed there is need to drift away from the idea of having to think what has to be changed, analyse it and start implementing change.

There is need to make the change / change drivers to be seen first.

What has been seen ignites lasting experiences and feelings which built a desired and empowerment to make change stick.

Once that emotional attachment is created the pockets of resistance will be minimal, channels of communication will be clear since people will be communicating what they have lived, seen, felt and experienced.

The see, feel and act philosophical lens creates and an emotional attachment which management will feel more obliged towards the success of change.

Further Reasons...
by: Mourad ARFAOUI

Perhaps the factor which I will speak about is already part of your analysis of the reasons that push people in an organization to resist any attempt at organizational restructuring or change.

However, I find that the reasons that you mention are concerned mainly with companies and not Administrations and Government agencies.

Indeed, for this type of organization, people resist changes because they fear losing their benefits (mainly those who take full advantage of the situation) this is especially clear in the Tax Administrations and customs, where the organization members (especially for developing countries) find in the corruption a quick and easy way to get rich, and this, in the absence of viable and effective control structure and culture that promotes ethics and "correct" human values.

In addition, the lack of democracy promotes an atmosphere that leads to the diffusion of immoral values.

Why Change Often Fails
by: Anonymous

Indeed change is difficult and a failure in many organizations because of lack of practical skills of how to do especially in circumstances where there is no coaching and mentoring support and the absence of change activity monitoring.

Additionally, change is introduced without examining or looking at the cultural context and the content of the change itself.

global short-termism
by: Anonymous

Stephen, I agree with what you and Rick have to say about the failure of change initiatives, but when you talk about short-termism in the UK, I've had senior managers here in the US tell me "I don't want to do anything too involved, I don't plan on being in this position in (6-12-18) months."

J.O. Dravis

Failed Change
by: Mark Powell

I agree very much with the personal accountability argument for leaders of change.

I work in a public health service government funded. It's a truism that no private sector would run a business the way they do in public.

There is incredible waste and inefficient practice without obvious consequences. Governments seldom take funding away and I think maybe more consideration should be given to the role of Governments in supporting change.

Motivation is such a critical element. If you can get intrinsic motivation all the better but sometimes to kick start a project maybe there needs to be a clear reason and consequence to make change happen.

Thanks for this discussion.


The real causes of failures in change
by: Mohammed Khayundi

The rate of failure in change management efforts would remain at 70% or even greater because change is dynamic.

Peter Drucker said that you cannot manage change but can only be part of it.

The 70% failure rate is not unusual. We should accept it as the norm, and tell the world that chances of success are 30:100 because every change initiative; no matter how small or large scale; has its own unique characteristics that are different from experience.

It is unlikely that the true reasons for mergers and acquisitions are disclosed. Some organizations go into M & A to kill competition or pursue their own corporate strategies of horizontal / vertical diversifications.

These deceptive approaches in expansion of business or gaining competitive edge over others create conflicts of cultures, and departure of key personnel from either side of the merger or acquisition; hence the many failures.

Shareholders should be cautious about them to avoid erosion or destruction of their value. The idea of holding the leadership personally responsible is not feasible because the size of financial implications and complications in enforcement of such provisions if included in their terms and conditions of service.

Skills and practice can be out-sourced; but every change is unique and calls for fresh approaches any time change is implemented.

The real causes of failures are, as you stated, ‘hidden conflicts working against change’. These conflicts relate to cultural conflicts and personal interests of leaders in most cases. Not quite sure we can do anything about the weaknesses now or in future.

Best Wishes,
MBA Dissertation Student - University of Liverpool Laureate Onlne Education

Think change... correctly!
by: Hesbone

These great authors have adopted a dangerous generalization. What they've given is what in their view are the reasons why change fails.

However, the big question is, Why the remaining 30% do succeed?

Think about this medically; does getting 7 still births mean that the next three births will certainly be still? I don't think so! Or put the writers' arguments through the problem tree analysis and you'll not be surprised that their arguments may be about the branches and not the roots.

For me, the root cause for failure could be changing what doesn't need to be changed or changing it the wrong way. This is a function of 4 factors:

1) The design of the change
2) The model for implementing the change
3) The approach adopted for implementing the change
4) The people involved in the change and problems with the personal transition

In summary, I would suggest that a poorly designed change that is poorly implemented is no different to a properly designed change that is poorly implemented.

Change Failure - Motivation and Short-term goals
by: Anonymous

I agree with the conclusions you make that majority of change initiatives fail due to the low to none motivation of mid and top management...

This is exactly the results of the study I've made within the last two years in an oil and gas project.

Middle and top managers who were charged by the company to conduct and promote the change, had no interest in it and were not incentivized by the company to do it.

The lack of interest was prompted by their individual goals - short term assignments, the results of which had an impact on the overall change implementation but no impact on their individual targets...

Change management
by: Victor Ruele

Let me first of all thank Stephen for sharing his knowledge and expertise with us. I come from a country (Botswana) where are beginning to see changes in political leadership. Unfortunately some of these leaders think they can use directives to scare people into accepting the way they want things to be done. Directives are good at telling people what to do, but are not good at telling them how to go about it. If you have a leader with a military background, it's even worse because these people try to apply military type of tactics to get people to do certain things. For me as I have been following your literature, it's about getting people through the unfreezing mode, sharing your vision with them and trying to buy them into that vision. like Kotter has said, change is technically easy, but socially difficult. My question is: how do you get people to move quicker through the unfreezing mode without them feeling that you are putting them under pressure? Also how do you deal with cultural issues which act against you?

Change is Inevitable
by: Ngira Dennis

I totally agree with you I am going to shuffle some arrangements in my management skills...

Would you please tell me reasons why political issues are ever changing?

Why the politics?
by: Admin

Short answer as to why the politics is human nature and the underlying motivation is power and control.

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