Top 5 reasons change initiatives fail

Whether you’re looking at an organisational/leadership/people change, a change to process or tools or even altering the product you offer, making changes in a company can be a costly exercise if you’re not careful.

When it comes to changing what and how you do things in a business, the biggest challenge is rarely the actual change. Rather, many change initiatives fall down because of the people the changes are happening to. Below are 5 of the most common reasons why change strategies are often met with such resistance and fail to show the anticipated results years later.

The new approach makes things harder

There are many potential reasons for the strategy not actually meeting the needs of the end users. From shareholder pressure to new managers keen to leave their mark, lack of consultation can often result in a product that simply doesn’t meet the needs of the people who will be required to adapt to the change. In these situations, unless forced (ie all other options are taken away), it becomes incredibly challenging to convince people to support and adopt the change.

Similarly, if the change being implemented is not agile and iterative, it is quite possible that a product that started off looking good no longer meets the needs of the business by the time that it’s finally ready to use. Additionally, the bigger the change, the more overwhelming it can be. For this reason, small, incremental changes are often a much better option.

Insufficient incentive

Even when we want to make changes, the ability to stick to our decisions can be incredibly difficult (just ask a recovering alcoholic/smoker). Unfortunately, if the desire does not outweigh the temptation, one’s ability to make the change becomes incredibly difficult. This is where the concept of the carrot or stick comes into play. The premise is simple – if people don’t want to do something, they need either a big and juicy enough carrot or enough fear of punishment to make them do what’s being asked of them. If the incentive or deterrent isn’t sufficient then the temptation to revert back to prior behaviour will always win. This is because unlike consciously made changes which require a lot of effort and concentration, the majority of our behaviours are entrenched as habits which occur almost naturally and with very little effort.

Communication failures

Admittedly, this is more a category rather than a single problem but when it comes to implementing effective change, communication is key. From failing to share a message at all to sharing confusing or unhelpful messages, lack of clear communication can be a make or break point when encouraging adoption. Similarly, the messenger chosen can be equally powerful. Having your message shared on the wrong platform, by a person who holds little influence or is disliked and untrustworthy can be just as damaging when struggling to get buy-in.

The users aren’t brought along for the journey

Unless the change strategy is one that eliminates all alternatives, one of the most damaging things you can do is create a situation where the people required to adhere to and adopt the changes are not involved in the process. If there is no consultation or inclusion, the change is effectively happening TO the people rather than WITH or BECAUSE OF them. By empowering the users to feel as though their views matter, they become far more invested in the outcome and will be much more inclined to support and implement the change.

Negative track record

Unfortunately, because change is one of those areas that many businesses try without assistance, the number of failed past attempts can often be quite high. Whether a change strategy was abandoned before fruition, fizzled because of a lack of incentive or leadership or any number of other reasons, too many failed attempts leads to a lack of trust and willingness to invest in a new idea. Where a failed track record is a known thing, an incremental strategy is critical as are immediate benefits. This is necessary to prove utility and encourage investment in the outcome while building trust in those implementing the strategy.

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