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.

20 Questions to refocus and reflect

When you’re running a business, it can be incredibly easy to get lost in the immediate. All the pressing concerns, the deadlines, the financial woes. But taking a moment to stand still in the middle of all the chaos is incredibly important as it helps you identify the areas in which biases and heuristics are leading your decisions and focus astray. The below are a list of 20 questions we use to pause and reflect on where we are, where our business is and what steering is required to get us back on the path we’d like to be on.

  1. What can you see that others can’t?
  2. Have you found the right tribe?
  3. Does your tribe understand/relate to your message/goal?
  4. Are you selling yourself a lie or running around with blinkers on?
  5. Are you lacking creativity/imagination?
  6. Are you dreaming without foundations?
  7. What don’t you like about your business? 
  8. What once worked but no longer does since you’ve grown?
  9.  What about your business isn’t authentic and was simply borrowed from someone else or from external expectations and suggestions? 
  10. Are you trapped by things that simply aren’t true?
  11. What are you trying to control that doesn’t serve you?
  12. What are you fighting/resisting?
  13. Are you doing too many things at once?
  14. Are you unable to take a step back and assess?
  15. Have you got the right mentors/teachers?
  16. What problems do you keep encountering over and over?
  17. Are you turning a blind eye to ingrained biases? 
  18. Are you looking for a scapegoat/someone else to blame when things aren’t going well?
  19. What areas have you learned and grown the most and which ones hold the greatest opportunities for growth and improvement?
  20. What recent achievements are you most proud of and what recent challenges have you learned from the most?

Why it’s smart to be the dumb one

When you read the heading of this article, there’s every chance that your mind went somewhere calculated. There’s a great benefit to being perceived as simple, people underestimate you. In doing so, they become more willing to help you and become more carefree about their own actions as no warning system or alert is activated in their mind painting you as a threat. This means that they’re also far more likely to be open to your suggestions (even mores if they think they came up with the ideas themselves), making it far more likely that you’ll get a desirable outcome for yourself.

And yet, calculated and beneficial as the above may sound, that isn’t actually what this article is about!

Rather, the intention of this piece is to ACTUALLY be the dumbest person in the room. This is a piece of advice that many of the greats (ie Warren buffet, Richard Branson) follow. There are countless studies that span many centuries showing just how effectively ideas developed or improved when bounced around a group of people. From boys clubs to coffee houses, creating an environment that brings together people from different backgrounds from whom the others could learn was incredibly beneficial.

Why is it beneficial to be the dumbest person?

  1. It grants you the opportunity to learn other points of view that you may not have previously considered as each person has differing expertise and life experiences (and limiting narratives).
  2. It allows you to pool the wisdom that surrounds you and to actually make better decisions as a collective.
  3. It improves collaboration (provided you’re humble enough to recognise that you alone can’t know everything).
  4. It can help fast-track how quickly you learn and progress as knowledge gets compounded (similar to Moore’s law for technological developments).

What if you’re not the dumbest person in the room?

Even if you don’t think you’re the dumbest person in the room, you can still learn from other people! For example, resist the temptation to jump in and be heard first and instead do your best to speak last. Practicing active listening provides opportunity to learn from the other opinions and gives you the opportunity to incorporate their views when forming your own. This then gives you the opportunity to offer a more well-rounded, valuable opinion. The benefits of this approach include leaving your points more salient, building trust and alignment with others and helping portray you as a desirable leader.