Why Change Programs fail?

Most of the IT projects impact the way work is being done in the organisation. In order to get value or benefits from these changes, it is necessary that these system or process improvements are actually utilised and become part of the new way of doing work. This requires change management.

Transformation projects such as core systems replacement or even major outsourcing have a significant impact on the way business operates in an organisation. Here, change management becomes integral to the project success. While most IT and other senior executives understand the need for effective change management, in reality many projects fail to deliver the full potential due to the mistakes in change management.

Here are some of the common mistakes or reasons why change initiatives fail.

There is an unclear link to the ‘big-picture’

career jigsawIn most organisations there is constant change. There are many projects, business restructures, process improvements and such going on in all parts of the organisation at once. There are a number of demands on employees. While they see a lot of change, they don’t really understand why and how these changes will make the organisation successful. As a result they are not ready to fully commit to the change.

Often, there are multiple change themes underway without any sort of integration between them. Each executive appears to be pushing his or her own change agenda. The result is often confusion.

This is a leadership issue and not an employee issue. Many leaders fail to make a case for the change and its relevance to their people. People want to see how this change and other changes fit within the big picture, how it would lead to success in the marketplace or the achievement of company vision. They are then likely to commit to the change.

Program lacks meaning

Meaning comes from how people see themselves in the change. Do they know how they personally fit into it? Do they understand what is the impact on their role and what they will be asked as a result? The absence of a dialogue creates gaps that lead to rumours and concerns. Without meaning , people decide to sit on the side, or worse, begin to undermine the change.

Explaining how the change fits within the big picture or the organisational context and supporting people in a dialogue about the impact of the change on people, is necessary to create meaning for people. This is not a one-time activity. During long change programs this dialogue needs to be sustained or else people naturally believe that the leaders are not committed to the path.

Sponsor missing in action

The CEO or other C-suite executives announce large changes with great fanfare. Soon the execution is delegated to a lower level executive or to committees and the CEO moves on to other important tasks. The executive or committee does not have a clearly defined role or authority for decisions. As a result, the change program slowly loses momentum.

Change process is ad hoc

While there is a lot of change, organisations still lack a coherent change process. Executives are in so much of a hurry to get the ball rolling that they don’t stop and think about the oversight, methodology and tools to make sure that the change is led effectively.

Conscious change management requires:

  • Clear definition of change leadership roles, sponsor, change leadership team, initiative leads and project teams;
  • The change leadership role need clear responsibilities and ways of relating to other roles; and
  • The structure of the change program and the decision-making processes need to be clearly defined so that the change governance is sound.

Change management is becoming a strategic discipline like Finance and Human Resources. These disciplines have agreed management protocols or way of doing things. Without these, more than 60% change efforts are failing to produce the intended benefits. Having the change discipline will create the necessary ability and infrastructure to get the best ROI from the change effort.

Program scope is too narrow

Often the executives fail to correctly set the scope for the change management activities. Sometimes the scope is too narrow to the technological aspects, without understanding the shifts in mindset or power centres resulting from the change. Too narrow a scope causes the leaders to misdiagnose what the change really entails. Carefully assessing the impacts within and on other parts of organisation at the start and then designing the program accordingly, would lead to success.

The capacity for change not understood

We know there are many changes underway in an organisation at any one time.  So employees are being pushed and pulled in many directions at once. But the executives are in a hurry and want the change to take effect immediately. This wish for ‘speed’ often results in unrealistic timelines and resource demands.  Leaders are not willing to create more capacity to make change. Line managers and employees are expected to do their own role plus take part in the change processes. This adds to stress, lower morale and performance and, as a result, the change flounders.

The organisation’s culture not considered

change_management_icebergTransformational change often fails because leaders are not successful in changing the old culture. Essentially, organisational culture determines “how things are and how things get done around here.”
Research shows that over 60% of transformational change efforts fail. Not adequately addressing organisational culture is one of the primary reasons why.

As Jim Collins said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” Sadly, too often multi-million dollar technology installations never deliver their intended ROI because the people (organisational culture) do not embrace the new ways of working that the technology demands.

Failure to engage stakeholders

Managing stakeholdersWhen IT experts are in charge of designing and implementing an IT solution, they do what they think best without engaging the users. If the users are not asked to decide and fine-tune its function and requirements “on the ground,” the product will fail and the stakeholders will be upset.

Some leaders do not use stakeholder engagement because they do not know how to get people engaged efficiently. To them, stakeholder engagement seems cumbersome, slow, and costly.

Giving your people a say in shaping their future— asking them what they think success looks like, asking what they think the real breakthrough issues are, and asking for their best solutions and advice is critical to the engagement.

However, many executives still err on the side of using predominantly one-way strategies such as memos, newsletters, speeches, and informational websites. These are all “tell” strategies where leaders tell the organisation. Relying only on “outside-in” methods will have limited success.

Not addressing emotional side of the change

People change when they choose to change. They internally accept the need and rationale for change, make sense of it, go through their emotional reactions, then finally commit to it and begin to take positive action based on that commitment. Outside-in practices, such as executive mandates, top-down communications or forcefully imposing new practices, cause resistance, fear, and anxiety for people—not the conditions required for people to want to, or be able to change effectively.


If the goal of the project is to deliver beneficial outcomes, change management is critical to the success. Without effective change management, capability delivered by technology is not effectively used by the people. This results in lower benefits to the organisation. Treating change management as essential and following a well defined change management process helps address many of these usual causes of failure.