Mark Craemer No Comments

Change management initiatives are necessary for organizations to remain competitive in our rapidly evolving economic climate. These initiatives are extremely important, yet the majority of them are considered failures.

Recent surveys of chief executives from major corporations say up to 75 percent of their organizational change efforts do not deliver promised results. Overall, a full two-thirds of change management initiatives fail all together.

Since the pace of change in organizations is increasing daily, there is no better time to understand how organizational change initiatives can become more effective. The short answer is stronger leadership.

According to leadership expert and author John P. Kotter in his book “Leading Change,” there are eight common errors firms make when implementing change:

  1. Allowing too much complacency
  2. Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
  3. Underestimating the power of vision
  4. Undercommunicating the vision by a factor of 10 or more
  5. Permitting obstacles to block the new vision
  6. Failing to create short-term wins
  7. Declaring victory too soon
  8. Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the corporate culture

None of these errors alone would be all that consequential in a slower-paced, less competitive environment, but since the speed of change will only continue to increase addressing these concerns is of extreme importance.

All of these reasons for failure can be summarized by a lack of strong leadership. In fact, “ineffective change sponsorship or leadership” at the executive level was cited as the primary reason for failure in numerous research reports by Prosci, Harvard Business Review, McKinsey Quarterly and others throughout the past decade.

According to this research, the top three reasons for failure with change initiatives were:

1. Ineffective change sponsorship or leadership from executives
2. Employee resistance
3. Poor support and alignment with middle managers

Before any organizational change effort is initiated, it is vital for the leader to fully understand the scope of his or her commitment and involvement. Organizational change efforts succeed only when the leader is 100 percent committed and thoroughly embraces the effort required for its success.

Kotter’s eight-stage process for successful change initiatives is a solid blueprint for leaders to model. To succeed the leader must follow each of these stages and stay fully committed and present throughout the process.

A 2002 McKinsey Quarterly study of 40 banks, manufacturers, hospitals and utilities titled “Helping Employees Embrace Change” revealed that of the companies that were successful in their change initiatives, all shared the following attributes:

  • All levels of the organization were involved from the very beginning
  • Responsibilities were clear
  • Reasons for the change were clear to everyone

Change takes time because employees need to move through their own stages of denial, resistance, exploration and finally commitment. Management must therefore be patient and recognize that every employee needs to go through each phase at his or her own pace.

This may seem to contradict the sense of urgency required to bring about change in the first place, but not if everyone is involved from the very beginning. Resistance from employees diminishes in direct proportion to the openness from upper management. By keeping all employees aware of the plan from the start and by giving them a clear and compelling vision of the future, a leader can help bring them on board with the change.

Most of us don’t like change of any kind and it is natural to resist because change often brings on anxiety by disrupting the status quo. This is true in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. However, change is inevitable and therefore we must all find ways to enable effective change to succeed.

Leaders must be extremely vigilant in every step of a change initiative because they most directly determine whether it is successful or not. Their guidance and stewardship throughout the process is more important than anything else.

Mark Craemer

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