Man sad at failure rests head on desk
7 reasons why change programmes fail and how to fix them

Recognising the need for change within your business is one thing. Maybe you want to implement a new technology or introduce a new green strategy to maintain your competitive position. But where do you start? And how do you make sure that change is successful?

70% of change programmes fail.

A frankly staggering number given the amount of time, money, and energy that businesses put into implementing change.

Seven key factors increase the likelihood of failure. Understanding each will help you beat the odds and ensure your programme does not fall foul of this shocking statistic.

#1 - Poor planning

In their eagerness to get started, it is common that businesses rush the planning stage. Increasing demands on a business cause many business leaders to adopt a ‘just do it’ approach. Not allowing sufficient time to create clarity right from the outset quickly leads to change programmes unravelling. Lack of clarity leads to confusion, confusion results in lack of progress, lack of progress leads to a feeling that “change is too hard” - and eventually people give up. Despondent with the process and unlikely to want to try again.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Before you start implementing change, be clear on your vision, change priorities and roadmap.
  • Involve everyone in the development process, so there is a shared understanding and ownership for making change happen.
  • Officially launch your change programme and share with everyone in your business.

#2 - Lack of structure

Businesses that don’t put enough structure in place will find it difficult to maintain momentum, resulting in the day-to-day running of the business taking over. Change is not easy, and it always takes longer than we want it to. Without structure, it will be difficult to measure progress and without measurable progress, energy and focus will fade.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Once you’ve launched the programme and got everyone excited and motivated, ready to make change happen, put in place a rhythm to maintain momentum and progress. Quarterly events are a great way of regularly bringing people back together to take stock of progress, celebrate successes, and plan forward.
  • Touch base with people half-way through the quarter to ask how they are getting on and, if they are hitting any issues, to identify the roadblocks and required support.
  • Document your change programme. Break it down into smaller projects to make it more manageable and ensure every project has a clear scoping document outlining the objectives and anticipated benefits. Track progress using progress reports and status updates.

#3 - Lack of communication

When leaders don’t communicate why change is necessary and, crucially, how it will affect their people it results in a lack of understanding of the purpose of the change programme. With a lack of understanding, businesses fail to win over “hearts and minds” and consequently, behaviours remain unchanged.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Structure everything you want your people to know and understand under 3-5 key messages. This makes it easier to remember.
  • Communicate to the point where you feel like you’re over communicating and regularly check in with your audience. Ask them whether they have understood the message (in the way you intended for it to be received).
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your audience to determine the best way to communicate with them. For example, if they don’t have easy access to emails but do daily team huddles at the start of their day go along to one of their huddle sessions.

#4 - Trying to do too much

Businesses try to implement too many change initiatives at the same time. Starting lots of things is invariably going to result in struggling to get anything finished. The reality is, there is only so much change that can happen in a business at any one time.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Regularly review the scope of your change programme to prioritise and focus on those projects that are the most important to achieving your vision. Delay projects from starting if other projects haven’t finished yet.
  • Be brave about stopping a project if the benefits you hoped it would achieve are not coming to fruition.
  • Be realistic about the amount of time people will need to spend working on a project and don’t keep asking the ‘usual suspects’ to get involved.

#5 - Lack of change management capability

Traditionally, businesses have bought in change management experts to implement changes leaving people in the business to run the business. This approach leaves people in the business ill-equipped to implement change for themselves. Today, the pace of change is such that businesses need to be more agile and able to adapt as they go. This requires everyone in the business to have some level of change management capability in their toolbox of skills.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Identify the specific skills gaps in your business and seek external courses and support that upskill your people in these areas.
  • Provide people with an easy-to-use framework and the tools to implement change. Alongside clarity on the vision and the freedom to operate within a framework people will learn quickly.
  • We’re all natural problem solvers. With the right type of encouragement, you’ll be amazed at what people can achieve. Don’t underestimate the people in your business.

#6 - Lack of resources

Busy with the ‘day job’ businesses struggle with a lack of resources to implement, adapt and embed the changes to ensure new ways of working are sustained. Eventually old ways of working return adding confusion and more complexity to how your business worked before.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Start by making changes to ways of working that don’t work well and are inefficient e.g. manual processes that take a lot of time and could today be automated. This will free up people’s time, which can then be directed to bigger change projects.
  • Track projects for at least three months post completion to assure yourselves that the new ways of working stick.
  • As changes are implemented fix any problems that emerge quickly to stop people slipping back to old ways of working.

#7 - Leaders not taking personal responsibility for leading change

Successful leaders make sure their own beliefs and behaviours support change. Change is hard and it’s very easy to let ourselves get caught up in the running of the day-to-day. Leaders need to be acutely aware of the impact of their own behaviours and ways of working. For change to be a success it must be led from the top.

How to avoid this pitfall:

  • Accept that change starts with self and acknowledge the role you are playing in how the business is working today and what you need to do differently.
  • Regularly review the progress you are making to change your own behaviours e.g. habit trackers, weekly and monthly reviews against personal leadership objectives.
  • Understand that talking about change does not result in change happening, you must act. Establish a culture of accountability. Lead by example and ‘walk the talk’.

Avoiding these seven pitfalls doesn’t guarantee success, but it will vastly increase your likelihood of successfully implementing change into your business.

For more tips and leadership advice on successfully implementing change into your business sign up for my monthly newsletter. No spam or unwanted stuff. Just helpful tips, real-world inspirational stories, strategies and much, much more.

You may also like ...

Why The Spiral Hub Programme is different
The science of communication: How to assess and reinforce change
The power of the pause: How to supercharge your change journey 
Why business leaders must adapt their businesses for sustainability before it’s too late