It’s well known that 70% of change initiatives fail, mostly due to human factors such as employee resistance to change or lack of management support. On the other hand, when people are fully engaged and invested in change, they are 30% more likely to be successful. While the emphasis is mostly on how the envisioned change will result in a better future, recent research highlights an equally important aspect of change—continuity.
To grow, at some point every business is likely to undergo an organizational or structural change, such as mergers, acquisitions or reorganizations. But even the most well-planned transformation programs can fail because of poor implementation. According to a McKinsey survey of over 2,000 executives in 900 companies across various industries, the greatest impact on a major change effort comes from ownership of and commitment to change. This has been the most significant factor influencing the outcome of both successful and unsuccessful transformations.
Businesses with a track record of successful change initiatives set ambitious aspirations with clear accountability and goals, with support from the top down. Senior leadership teams that create an empowered work climate, build trust and support their teams throughout the transformation can positively impact people’s perception and attitude towards change.
The Human Factor
Successful transformational projects are not only about systems and processes, but most importantly they are about people. They require deep understanding of how individual attitudes and perceptions affect people’s responses to change and use techniques to reduce resistance. People will not change unless they believe in it. Naturally, they will start questioning how the change on a business level will impact them personally and professionally.
Different generations respond to change differently. Baby Boomers seek job stability and while they may not resist change, they are not as open as younger generations. For Generation X it is important to know how the change will benefit them. Often, resistance occurs if they believe the change might hinder their ability to progress in their role. Millennials, on the other hand, are very adaptable to change and expect organizational change to occur quickly and frequently. These generational differences play an important role when it comes to managing the people factor in transformation programs.
Change can often feel emotionally intense, creating frustration or anxiety and leading to lack of productivity and even greater resistance. The most common cause of resistance is when people feel the organization and their teams will lose key values they identify with, which can create anxiety about the uncertain future. Therefore, it’s important the vision of change is communicated in combination with the vision of continuity.
Change is Not Easy
Transformation affects many, if not all, people in the organization and can last for a long time, significantly challenging the status quo. It can be unsettling for many people within the organization. In times of turbulent change and uncertainty, staff will turn to the senior leadership team for support and direction. Change management can’t be delegated. It needs to be demonstrated top-down, and the senior team needs to walk the talk to drive change and motivation.
Even the best transformation plans can fail if they are not easy to understand and adopt. Making assumptions that everyone else understands the new direction and feels the need to change can quickly backfire. Instead, focus should be on clear and regular two-way communication to provide employees with updates and implementing their feedback. People are a critical element of any change initiative. For business transformation programs to be successful, it’s essential to create ownership, not just buy-in.
As a final note, it is impossible to overcommunicate. All transformation programs must have an extensive communication plan that is well executed —at a broad holistic level, team level and especially at a personal 1:1 level. When we recognize different people tolerate change in different ways, from excitement to concern to ambivalence, we can create personalized ownership which will, in turn, assure success.