Why Do Organizational Change Efforts Often Fail?

Organizations reorganize internal structures and processes to better align with changing conditions and business demands or because of a crisis that affects the organization.  They do this by stepping back and looking at the organization from a strategic level and plan realignment and adjustments with the goal of getting the organization closer to where it should be in terms of increased revenues, improved productivity, enhanced quality, cost savings and improved customer experience.

Some organizations succeed at this kind of effort and some fail miserably.  McKinsey Quarterly did a study that revealed that only 8% of executives polled, who had been through a redesign, said their change efforts added value, met business objectives and were completed on time.  Most of the executives said successful redesigns took six months or less and were successful at changing the mindsets of employees to rally around the change rather than resist it.

Organizational leaders explore reorganizations and change efforts when they feel the need to:

There are different thoughts on timing of implementing change initiatives.  Should organizational change be gradual over time or should it be quick?  When discussing this with leaders, I simply ask, “do you like to pull a band-aid off quickly or slowly?”   There are definite advantages to both approaches, but making changes quickly allows the organization to get to where it wants to be faster and slower implementation prolongs what is often a painful process.

The secret to successful, rapid change is to focus on altering the mindset of those that the change affects.  In the book  Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us  by Daniel Pink, he talks about the importance of influencing the employee’s motivation to change.  The premise being that in order to successfully change an organization, the change needs to well up from within the ranks of the employees.  Figuring out what motivates employees to change is key and there needs to be targeted efforts to identify the heart of what motivates them.

Organizations with successful change efforts had the following in common:

  • Implementation tactics helped employees overcome distraction and demoralization.
  • The change focused on the entire organization and not just one area.
  • Detailed and targeted performance goals were established.
  • Sufficient systems, processes and resources were available to support the change.
  • The right leadership was in place to support the efforts.
  • Fast implementation.
  • Targeted and very specific strategies to change employee mindsets.
  • A clear communication plan.
  • Support systems for the change.
  • Employees clearly understood why they were being asked to change.
  • Quick, decisive action was followed by employee support of the change.

Employers can help employees cope with organizational change by creating an organizational change strategy, developing a very clear communication plan that helps employees understand why the change needs to take place, soliciting employee involvement in organizational change, thoughtful timing and very defined procedures for implementing the change.

Poorly planned change efforts can affect employee morale and ultimately work productivity.  Taking the time to plan every specific detail of a change and developing a strong communication plan to help engage employees in the process is the best way to turn an organization around quickly and successfully.

Has your organization been through a reorganization or redesign lately?

photo by:  busy.pochi


  1. says

    Change management efforts seem to fail because they imply, by definition, ivory tower mandates which do not involve the people. By involving the people in defining the changes, themselves, there is no need for “change management”, because the change is already in motion. There’s no need to win over the people to make sure the change is a success, because it was their idea in the first place.
    cf: http://www.project-management-course.info/douglas-mcgregor-human-side-of-enterprise/


    • says

      Great point Steve! Employees are closest to the everyday challenges, are the ones who know what changes need to be made and should be part of the entire change process. Thanks for the comment!


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