Why your Change Efforts are Unsuccessful

Being able to recognise, plan and implement change is a critical success factor for almost any organisation. Organisations are subject to various forces both within and outside of their control, known as ‘internal’ and ‘external’ forces. For the most part, internal forces, can, to some extent, be planned for and “controlled”, however, often, external forces can be the largest drivers for unplanned change that the organisation needs to respond to, often quite quickly; take Brexit as an example. External forces may relate to regulatory and legislative change; increased competition in the market; the unavailability of a resources and anything else that derives from outside of the organisation.

John Kotter, a Harvard Researcher, studied more than one-hundred companies, analysing their change processes, reviewing how successful/unsuccessful their change efforts were relative to initial objectives for that change.

Synthesising all that information from successful and unsuccessful projects, he came up with the following most common errors that were detrimental to effective change delivery:

  1. Allowing too much complacency: Complacency is a virus that should be rid of immediately. There is absolutely no space for an organisation to remain stagnant, nor subject to external forces without at least a little bit of control. Therefore, it is imperative organisations remain both vigilant and responsive to their environment, both internally and externally, to ensure any change can be recognised early on, managed and delivered effectively. This is to ultimately ensure maximum value can be gained in response to ‘late-in-the-day’ or retrospective implementation.
  2. Failing to build a substantial coalition: The team are the drivers for change and need to be wholly bought in to the change, its vision, deliverables and objectives. They need to maintain the necessary mindset, skills, team spirit and drive to get the job done irrespective of circumstances. The coalition may include project team members, but may also include supporters and stakeholders that may have an interest in the project. In any event, the stronger the coalition, the stronger the likelihood of success.
  3. Underestimating the need for a clear vision: The vision is critical; if the organisation doesn’t know where it’s going, how is it going to get there? Time should be spent early on in the project, to define, understand and plan the project. Naturally, the vision plays a critical role in this definition. The largest cost to projects are change requests raised during the project delivery, so if extra time is invested at the outset, understanding the vision and how to achieve it, this will save resources further down the line.
  4. Failing to communicate the vision: No brainer, right? The problem is around individuals involved not understanding the wider impact of the change. The word, ‘Vision’, itself is not a short-term idea; vision relates to the wider objectives of the project that may impact profitability, business processes, customer service, learning and growth for the organisation and more. It’s critical for the stakeholders to understand this vision, so they can see the benefit and value to be gained from it. If the coalition doesn’t understand the vision, how can they be expected to communicate it to others, so the coalition is certainly a good place to start to ensure buy-in can be gained across the board, from all stakeholders.
  5. Permitting roadblocks against the vision: Roadblocks are unacceptable and should be completely removed from the journey as quickly as possible. Naturally, if they can’t be removed, a strategy should be in place to manage them, so to prevent any potential detrimental impact on the achievement of the change. The coalition’s key objective should be to deliver the change and therefore, the review of risks that may affect that delivery should be clearly identified, managed and preferably removed. The more aggressive a team is around this, there is an increased likelihood of successful change delivery.
  6. Not planning: Again, a no brainer; we’ve all heard it: ‘if you fail to plan; you better plan to fail!’ There’s truth in that; we’ve all been in that position where we’ve not thought something out thoroughly and regretted it once we were in the thick of it. On this basis, it’s so important to plan the change to ensure successful delivery. This may include understanding risks, milestones, people involved, what we need to produce, by when, whose support we need and more. The idea of planning is to increase the level of ‘control’ we have over a project, to ensure we’re driving it in the right direction and that we’re subject to as little roadblocks, problems and issues as possible preventing us from achieving our change objectives.
  7. Getting short-term wins: Getting those short-term wins in as quickly as possible can support in the morale, momentum and team spirit of the coalition, further increasing the drive and ambition for success. Soft-skills and emotional intelligence are of course critical, but often overlooked elements to successful change delivery and this should be managed by the guiding members of the coalition, facilitating and encouraging team morale, spirit and happiness. No recognition, sense of achievement or short-term wins can often result in burn-out, drainage and a coalition not feeling motivated. The coalition members are the drivers of the change and their attitude and motivation towards the achievement of the change is, some might argue, the most important thing.

With these errors all under control and managed, you will have drastically reduced the probability of your change efforts being unsuccessful. Change is an essential part of life and business and the quicker we can learn how to best manage the wider delivery of change, the more effective, efficient and productive the change and its delivery will be.

Good luck you change experts!