Why Organisational Change Fails

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There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

—Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Preaching change is much different than practicing it. Change is tiring and toilsome work, requiring persistence and resourcefulness. Unfortunately, many leaders fall short in their efforts to enact change. The following list compiles what leadership development expert Mark Sanborn identifies as the most common reasons why organizational change fails. Use it to analyze and/or prevent mistakes in your future attempts at change.

1.    Misstarts. A misstart occurs when change is ill-advised, hastily implemented, or attempted without sufficient commitment. Misstarts are jarring and demoralizing to an organization, and they destroy a leader's credibility.

2.    Making change an option. When leadership commits to change, it must be made clear that change is not an option. Regrettably, the message of change is often weak and watered down. Whenever people have the option to avoid change, they will.

3.    A focus only on process. Leaders can become enmeshed in managing the process of change to the point where they don't measure tangible outcomes. Activity becomes more important than results.

4.    A focus only on results. Unhealthy results-focus stems from a belief that the end justifies any means. Organizations tend to fail miserably in this regard; they downplay or ignore the human pain of change. Insensitivity to people's feelings not only prevents change, but also destroys morale and loyalty in the process.

5.    Not involving those expected to implement the change. Top-down mandates for change arouse a great deal of resentment. To smoothen the arrival of change, employees need to be involved in two ways. First, solicit their input and suggestions when planning the change. Second, involve them in determining the means of change. Leadership needs to communicate, "Here's what must happen. How do you think it can best be done?"

6.    Delegation of change to "outsiders". Change is an inside job. Although outside consultants may provide valuable ideas and input, people inside the organization must accept responsibility for leading change.

7.    No change in reward system. If you continue rewarding employees for what they've always done, you'll never move past the usual results. Adjust rewards, recognition, and compensation to reflect the desired change.

8.    Leadership doesn't walk the talk. Attempts at change are sabotaged whenever leaders neglect to demonstrate the same commitment they expect from others. Leadership must take the first steps.

9.    Wrong size. In this instance, change is either too massive to be achievable or too small to be significant. A change program should be neither too easy nor too impossible.

10.  No follow-through. The best planning is worthless if not implemented, monitored, and measured. Responsibility for executing change must be clearly defined so that follow-through is timely and thorough. Remember, what is measured is what gets done!

Source: Adapted from Mark Sanborn, "Why Organizational Change Fails", Leadership Wired, Issue 1, Sept-2008, quoted in Church Leaders Intelligence Report e-Newsletter, 5-Nov-2008

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