3 Reasons Why Change Programmes Fail


Business change is never easy, but, as the saying goes, nothing worthwhile in life ever is. However, change is inevitable. Nothing ever really stays constant and as such businesses will need to adjust, revert, progress, pivot and so on, in order to survive and/or thrive.

That’s enough cliche’s for one day….

I’ve been involved in many business change programmes from small-scale reorganisations to large international projects, and where these have been successful, as well as where they’ve been unsuccessful, is usually down to the same three reasons.

I feel I must quantify that this article is purely opinion. I know that’s obvious, but I see lots of nonsense around this area that is often presented as fact with pretty, but entirely fabricated infographics. So this is simply my view.

On with the show.

 1. The appropriate most senior business leader is not seen to be driving the change

If any business change task is vitally important to the business in question, then stakeholders need to understand that level of importance. If business change is not being driven by the business leader responsible for that particular business, whether that be the director of the department, the regional manager, or even the CEO/MD, then employees start to wonder why, and started to wonder how committed the business is to the desired change. The question mark that has been created as a result of this lack of senior drive over the business change activity, often manifests in something more problematic, such as a lack of support from others in the business.

When a politician gives a rousing speech, people are not naive enough to understand that speech writers and policy advisers exist. People usually understand that the speech the politician is making has probably been written for the most part by someone else. However, people are still bought in to the message, in part because the politician is expertly delivering the speech, usually with passion and clarity, which gives others the perception that the politician in question is supporting the viewpoint they are communicating. Those receiving the speech understand that the politician can answer questions on the subject matter, that this is important to them, that the speech writers have drafted the politicians thoughts and not just that the politician is a mouthpiece for someone else’s opinion. This is all, really important.

The same applies to business change. The architect of the change, does not need to be the senior business leader that’s fronting it up and the ‘face’ of that change, it can of course be others who are knowledgeable of the particular business area, but as long as others in the business recognise the appropriate senior business leader is accountable for that change programme, and is wholeheartedly supporting that piece of work, then the chances that others in the business will be bought in too, are much more likely.

The most successful business change programmes, in my view, are those where the most senior person in that business is taking the lead, committed, completely involved, and playing a key role in influencing others.

2. Stakeholders don’t understand the reason for the desired change

Often the difference between acceptance or rejection of the desired business change, is down to whether the key stakeholders affected by the proposed change, including employees, contractors, customers, shareholders, fully understand the reason for the change. To take that further, these key stakeholders also need to understand, importantly, what would happen if change did not occur. Why is the change important? What is being proposed? What results would the change bring? What could happen if the business did nothing?

It’s very easy to either forget to communicate why something is changing, or to fail to adequately detail the reason for the change when communicating it to others. The architect behind the change or the project manager has probably lived this piece of work for months and so they can often take for granted that the change must happen as they’ve moved way past this question and spend all of their time and energy on the solution. However, when communicating this change programme to an individual or a group of people who are hearing this stuff for the very first time, they will need to understand the ‘why’. This is vitally important, as it can dictate the support or resistance for the remainder of the project implementation.

3. Insufficient ongoing and post evaluation of the change

Business change projects hardly ever go exactly as planned. Despite the most predictable of outcomes and challenges or the most straight-forward activity, i’m yet to encounter a single project that does not hit a snag, or fails to achieve everything it set out to.

Usually, that’s absolutely fine, and nothing a thorough ongoing and post evaluation will not identify. When projects need adjustment, it is always better to make tweaks as you progress or immediately upon completion, than for the entire piece of work to be fundamentally flawed, to the extent that someone will come along later and start a new business change programme to correct the previously attempted work.

Regular project meetings, feedback and tweaks are the key to the success of business change programmes. Failing to do so, almost inevitable means the project will not appropriately achieve what it set out to.

There are lots of other reasons why change programmes don’t work, but in my experience, you get these three areas right and your foundations are solid.

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