It’s been over 10 years since Gartner produced its stark statistic that 7 out of 10 change initiatives fail. With the collective wisdom we have achieved since then, surely this figure must now have decreased? After all, don’t executive boards now “get” the importance of structured change management? Haven’t organisations routinely been investing in expensive consultancy support to change activities? Haven’t “Change Managers” now become an established cadre in the modern workforce (even if we still debate at great length whether they sit in HR, or Strategy, or Ops)?
Put quite simply, not much seems to have changed in change – if anything failure rates are getting worse with some studies now claiming that an average of 8 in 10 programmes fail to deliver the change anticipated.
Why might this be? Clearly, the need to rapidly respond to changes in the external environment, driven as much by the economic downturn as in preparing for the eventual upturn, is about as big a burning platform as you can get. The rapid development cycles typical of the FMCG sector are now common place in many environments –banking products, technology and even film development cycles are shortening, fighting to get their product to the demanding consumer quicker than their competitors. The speed with which we can now collaborate and communicate across geographies through communications and social media technologies also increase the pace of change.
Couple this with a workforce that may not have had pay rises, bonuses or much opportunity for career progression in the past four years; are likely to have experienced multiple rounds of restructuring and redundancy processes; and, with change failure rates so high are potentially change fatigued, perhaps we can conclude that peoples propensity to adapt to change is, shall we say, slightly compromised?
The net result of this is that change continues to be, as the change gurus would have it “installed” and not truly “implemented”. An installed change may well boast a solution such as new technology in place, and working, and to time and budget too. But unless the anticipated changes to ways of working are happening and committed too and have real sustainability, we can’t say they have truly landed. Better put the champagne back on ice.
Heathrow’s terminal 5 was launched a few years back to much fanfare. After all that beautiful building was completed and open pretty much on time. Installed change – check! But who can forget the baggage handling debacle caused by untrained, unprepared and unready staff which almost grounded the fleet, and left a huge dent in BA’s public image. Though they got there in the end, were they set up for implemented change?…not quite.
The sustainability gap creates not only a failure to implement change, but also in being able, workforce-wide, to anticipate and respond to emerging change – particularly at the coal face. In the last week alone, Kodak, the company that gave us the first hand held camera and has inspired the amateur photographer in generations since 1880, filed for bankruptcy protection after not having made a profit since 1997. A victim of the rise of digital technology, Kodak did try to deliver digital offerings but much more slowly and less effectively than its counterparts. I’m willing to bet the workforce had seen this coming, and had some great ideas and energy for responding.
Tesco too have been feeling the pinch; issuing a profit warning after its “big price drop” failed to resonate with customers, as a result wiping 15% of its share price when the news was announced. Perhaps those at the front line who interact with customers on a minute by minute basis had a sense of this? What if that intelligence had been harnessed and responded to by Tesco more quickly?
In short, we are still not getting sustainable change.
All of which takes us back to the universal truths of change management:
- Change is hard to do
- To do change well, you need a structured approach which manages the risk factors and ensures due attention to the success factors
- Change has not taken place until we know it’s going to last: until it is truly implemented and not installed
- To be confident of this, we need to measure the impact against pre-determined change objectives
- We need to have created sustainability for the change, both in terms of creating a legacy of skills and abilities in the organisation to deliver change, and creating a history of positive and successful change delivery that leaves people ready, and utilising the tools available to proactively look at the ongoing cycle of change in the future.
More fundamentally, our framework focuses on the critical lever of creating change sustainability. This means external partners collaborating with your teams to deliver change; providing coaching, reference, approaches, tools, experience and support but never “doing it to you”; and providing a measurement framework that starts at a clear vision of what the implemented change will look and feel like, and tracking and measuring deployment of that vision long after the Microsoft project plans have been completed.