Why change management often fails

Responsive organizations are better able to adapt successfully or anticipate developments in their environment. If you want build such an organization, it is important to understand why conventional change management often fails, as we discussed in one of our other blogs.

Organize for succes
In many change projects, companies do not organize well enough for success. By that we do not mean organization charts, KPI’s, reporting lines or meeting schedules. These are usually well in place. Maybe sometimes a little too much.

Many companies do not adequately tap into the human ability to change.

No, we mean that the plans take insufficient account of people and their  relationships. For example: are people energized by the company’s strategy or change plan? Does everyone do what he or she wants to do – and does that match their abilities? Is there sufficient agreement – or ‘buy-in’ – on the goals and priorities? Is there enough focus, or is the number of priorities so great that no focus is possible? And do the teams involved have sufficient capacity to realize the change? 

Friction
Common sense tells us, that agreement, focus and capacity are prerequisites for successful change. And it is clear that, when these factors are not addressed well in the process there will be too much friction. Friction exists within organizations as well as between organizations and their environment. A certain amount of friction is good – it leads to resolutions and innovations. But too much of it creates resistance, frustration and lack of progress. This is the case in the far majority of change initiatives. It prevents companies to tap into the human ability to (contribute to) change.

Understand blockages to change
This was demonstrated by the Artificial Intelligence specialists of Praioritize, led by Dr. J.M. van de Poll (See: van de Poll, J. M. (2018). Ambition patterns in strategic decision-making). They have conducted a global study among more than 4.000 teams. Part of the study was to find out how teams score on the factors of agreement, focus and capacity to change. The results are quite revealing.

Agreement
On the one hand the study measured the agreement among the teams of the respondents with regard to their priorities (from low to high). On the other hand the study measured the teams’ agreement with the objectives that were set by upper management (low to high):

Most teams have insufficient agreement on priorities

Seventy percent of the 4.000 teams does not agree with the company’s objectives (!), and 40% of the teams do not agree among themselves. How will that bring about coherence in the organization?

Ambitions
Another factor that was measured was the ambition or focus level of the teams. For this, the study looked at the number of priorities the team wanted to improve (the width of improvement) and by how much they wanted to improve them (the depth). Again, the results of the study offer a surprising insight:

Most teams choose too many priorities in change projects

Only 3% the teams have a clear overview of a limited number of improvement points that they want to improve significantly – on the road to progress. The other 97% of teams either pile too much on their plate – wanting to improve too much at the same time or they have no ambition (improve a few points just a little).

Effort
An organization could agree on highly ambitious objectives, but what if the organization is not up to the required effort? The next image illustrates that only in 20% of the teams, the team can easily meet the required effort. In the other 80%, the effort is either (too) high or unevenly distributed among team member:

The effort required for teams is usually (too) high, or not evenly distributed among team members

Capacity
Last but certainly not least: we could all agree that there must be capacity to change in the team. Capacity can be defined along two dimensions: two what extent are people working on non-priorities and to what extent are they already scoring the objective on actual priorities? As with agreement, focus and effort, the research has revealed that the majority of teams has the tendency to ‘bite off more than they can chew’:

Capacity is another factor in change management that is generally overlooked

Take the basics into account…
Change is hard when there is lack of consensus and lack of focus. It is also hard when there is consensus and focus, but the required effort is unevenly divided among the team or does not match the capacity of the organization at all. As the results of the Praioritize study demonstrate, the far majority of change programs start off at the wrong foot and fail to take into account the basic managerial factors that enable organizations to move as one and accomplish change for the better. 

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