Top 7 Reasons Why Organizational Change Fails

4 min read
Jun 2, 2015

Optimized-iStock_000049582322_SmallLet’s say that you want to make a change in your organization. It could be anything really — maybe you want the sales team to embrace a new strategy or you want the entire office to implement a new HR policy. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: it won’t be easy. 

Even though we are living in a time where business is conducted — as Bill Gates once observed  at the speed of thought,” employees tend to resist change. Indeed, according to Rick Maurer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance, fully 70% of attempts at change in organizations fail.

The problem with such a high failure rate is that not only will missing the mark result in lost opportunities, but there are will also be wasted resources, and cynicism, as a result.

All of which begs the questions:

  • Why does organizational failure occur at such a high rate, and
  • What can you do to avoid it?

Let’s find out.

1. Lack of Communication

No, it’s not that management fails to communicate what the change is or what it should look like, but rather, they fail to communicate why the change is needed. The number one reason why organizational failure occurs is because the case for making a change is not adequately articulated to the troops, and therefore, is never fully embraced. In fact, a recent study found that only 40% of front-line supervisors felt they were “getting the message” about the reasons behind major organizational shake-ups, which leaves at least 60% of employees in the dark at best.

The other way that management tends to drop the ball insofar as communication goes is that, even if the reason for the change is explained, the actual process of communicating the desired change is not done in a way that people can readily comprehend; for instance:

  • Corporate mumbo jumbo may be used in place of actual words that mean something.
  • Statistics and numbers that folks don’t really get are offered instead of clear reasons and a vision.
  • Fear is used instead of a compelling, optimistic, positive path.

In this regard, it may help to think about a presidential campaign. It is axiomatic in politics that a clear, positive, uniting vision for the future will almost always trump a campaign based on fear-mongering, alienation, and negativity.

So too your office.

If you articulate a clear, positive vision for the future and explain why that change is necessary, the chances are much higher that your desired change will be embraced.

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2. Differing Agendas

Poor communication will have many children. One of those will be staff members who resist the change due to ego and self-interest. Without a full understanding of why a change is needed, some employees will be threatened by it and thus will resist it out of perceived self-interest; they need to protect their little fiefdom.

Another bastard child of poor communication are those employees who will feel alienated or excluded. If, for instance, the change is a top-down dictate where the team had no real chance to give their input, the result will likely be people who don’t own the change and therefore resist it.

3. Insensitivity

What is a business? It is a group of people united to create a desired, profitable result. Who is tasked with implementing a change in that business? Yep, those same people.

Change is not easy for most folks. If you want your team to buy into a change, then you need to be cognizant of that fact and take it into account in two ways:

  • First, to the extent possible, understand how important it is to involve, early on, those who will be asked to implement the change. Get their thoughts and feedback.
  • Second, be sensitive to the fact that change is challenging and that it will cause individual, personal stress.

4. A Lack of Leadership

It is incumbent upon management to create an atmosphere where the troops buy into the new corporate vision. But if employees feel alienated or otherwise don’t trust their higher-ups, getting them to buy into any new direction will be quite difficult.

5. Poor Planning

Changing the direction of an organization requires forethought. If the change is entered into willy-nilly, or too quickly, or without a proper plan, a likely outcome will be a false start, resistance, and/or eventual failure.

6. Lack of Commitment

If you really want to create a change in your organization, there has to be a 100% commitment on the part of the leadership. Once you have that, the same commitment should be expected of everyone in the business. The desired change must be considered a rule, not an option.

7. Poor Processes

Finally, success will require that you give your team a means and process for implementing the desired change; otherwise, their natural reaction to resist will persist.

Author Rick Maurer puts it this way: Most people react to change by putting up a wall of protection. It is the job of the leader in an organization to engage with those people so they truly understand why the change is needed.

Do that, and your chances of success will be, well, a whole lot more than 30%.



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