70% of projects still fail to achieve the desired results. We have all heard this statistic many times, and with today’s pace of change and digital disruption this percentage is set to increase.
Regardless of the nature of the project or program – be it a large-scale Digital Business Transformation, a merger or acquisition, or an introduction of new systems and processes – most of these failures are because employees have not changed their ways of working and therefore negate the business benefits from the project investment.
There certainly is no ‘one-size-fits-all’, but as today’s world is less linear and more agile I have seen the following five key mistakes that consistently lead to the failure of change programs.
1. Lack of Vision and Shared Sense of Purpose that People can associate with
Here’s the thing: most projects and programs do have a clear initial objective and business case, otherwise they would likely not get funded or progressed. However, how this objective is articulated as a clear vision and translated to a shared sense of purpose that people can associate with is where it all breaks down.
Often Leaders may have a solid business case for the project, for example to achieve increased market share, increased productivity or cost savings; but fail to translate this to something that is meaningful to the broader workforce. For example, how increased productivity achieved from automation will make their jobs more interesting. Or how increased market share will lead to growth and opening of new locations, creating new career opportunities for everyone. Or how the new cloud-based CRM will enable sales people to spend more of their time with prospective customers rather than on administrative tasks.
This applies in the same way to difficult change as well. We are not always in situations where we can paint a rosy perfect picture. Companies also face difficult changes, such as being acquired, organization restructuring and staff reductions. In such cases it is even more important to create a clear – and honest – vision of what the desired outcomes will look like and gaining buy-in to the course of action. In such cases it can help to position the course of action in contrast to the alternative of not taking this course of action.
Painting the picture of a shared outcome and getting everyone excited about working towards the same goal is what drives effective change. This shared sense of purpose is what will lead to action, and sustain that action, even when things get difficult.
2. Line Managers have not been effectively enabled and activated to champion the change
Even when there is a good vision, it can fail at the point where leaders and managers don’t communicate and reinforce this vision effectively. This happens because line managers either don’t buy in to it, don’t understand it, or don’t feel equipped to communicate it. This is usually fatal for any project.
Regardless of what kind of company we work for, whether it is large, mid-size or small, whether it is local or global, we know that the most important and critical part of most people’s work experience comes down to their direct line manager and the team they work with directly. For most employees this is more important than any communication they receive from a headquarter or leadership team or project team that they do not directly interact with.
Getting line managers on board effectively as change “champions” is the most powerful thing for any change program that can save significant costs on hiring external change resources; and still to this day beats any of the fanciest new tools. But as a fundamental, it is unfortunately often overlooked.
3. Focus on “How-To” rather than “Want-To”
I have seen this so many times – a project team designs some basic Training and Comms and decides that Change Management has been taken care of, and then afterwards wonder why no one has bought in to the change and the project has failed to achieve its goals. People know perfectly how to use the new tools, or the steps of how to initiate the new process; but they don’t want to, they don’t see the need to and they do not see their colleagues make the shift either, so they never bother.
The problem is that by not focusing on people’s motivation and gaining their buy-in to change their ways of working and creating new habits, all the best training and communications will not make a difference.
In our increasingly digital and connected world, training step by step “How-Tos” are the least of our worries, and the days of multi-day training programs to prepare for a new ERP implementation are a thing of the past. Sure, these often tick a box on the project plan, but in reality, they are now easily supplemented and replaced with more convenient and more effective “on demand” short courses and “Point-Of-Need” support, be it for new tools or new processes.
More important as a means to achieve real business results is to drive effective behavior change.
For example, let’s say the business goal is for front-line staff to become more customer-centric. Yes, of course, there is an element of teaching your people about who the customer is and what good experiences look like and the steps to follow, but a bigger element is creating the motivation for your staff to apply this in their day-to-day work and making it a habit.
Or let’s say a new analytics solution that provides significant new insights. Sure, we need to train people how to access the tool and what the data means. But this will not change anything, if the people do not change behaviors to integrate the new insights to day-to-day work and in the way they will make decisions.
The challenge is that behavior change is more difficult and more complex, hence project teams keep falling back to the easier “How-To” training and comms.
4. Lack of Human Change Experience Design that caters to the workforce
We read everywhere that we need to re-design experiences at work for millennials and Gen Z. My view is that it is much broader than this. I’m certainly not a Digital Native (the term used to describe the people who have grown up with digital technology since childhood), but I sure appreciate a good and hassle-free experience in my personal as well as work life. As I am sure most of my peers will agree.
The effects of a good vs mediocre user experience are everywhere. Recent studies have shown that consumers today will in many cases favor convenience over price when making personal purchasing decisions. For example, it is why convenient online food ordering via a simple app (UberEats, Seamless, Deliveroo etc) is doing so well. Even if it may cost a few Dollars more, consumers appreciate that it is just so much easier than to call a restaurant and explaining an order and spelling out the delivery address and credit cards on the phone each time.
Or take online banking. It’s now of course common place, but there wasn’t any marketing communications or training that got me to change my habit to bank online rather than visit a branch. It was pure convenience and the simple user experience that worked for me and made my life easier.
It is the same at work. Everyone is busy, and pretty much every employee wants to do a good job and get their work done. If you can design an experience for your people that they see as supporting them in achieving their work objectives better, and they see it as a good experience that integrates into what they need to achieve, they will be on board and will adopt the new tools and processes, you are implementing with minimal convincing.
This is why Design Thinking is such a powerful tool in today’s world. Companies have been using Design Thinking for many years to design services and products that their customers love. It’s now time to bring this to internal use and design experiences that are human, and convenient for our work life too.
What I love the most about Design Thinking in this context is that it involves the people you are looking to impact as part of the design process. And what is more powerful than one of your target audience saying to their peers with pride: “I helped design this!”
5. Organization is not change-ready
Some organizations are fundamentally more change-ready than others.
In today’s digital and ever-changing world, not being change-ready is unfortunately fatal. We are no longer operating in a time where change programs are one-off events that happen every 5 years and then the business can revert back to “Business-As-Usual (BAU)”. BAU as we know it is dead, and change is constant.
So, your people don’t need the once-every-5-years massive change program, but they need to be enabled to deal with change that is ever-present.
But where to start? I get it, it’s difficult to invest budget into something as vague as being “change-ready”.
Any change program or project that you have ongoing is a good start. You can make some powerful changes to the way you design and manage existing change programs to move away from one-off change efforts to preparing your people for future changes.
You can also tap into your performance management and other processes that touch all your people and review whether in their current form they really support the business goals.
And, of course, we need to have leaders and line managers who lead by example, sand motivate and guide their teams on this. Leadership development and succession planning efforts must be revamped to support this goal.
In today’s world change is ever-present. Most people in your workforce want to do good work, they want the company to succeed and they want to play their part in it. But it is hard.
Making Organization Change happen is about how you can bridge the gap from the business objectives to the workforce, enable line leaders to champion the change to create sustained behavior change and a more change-ready workforce.
We help companies set up organization change strategies that work, course-correct in-flight projects to bring them back on track and help companies become more change-ready to transform and thrive in this digital world.
You can contact us for a consultation on how to make organization change happen to more effectively achieve your business goals.