The success rate for business change has not materially improved for 20 years in spite of increasing investment in management training and development.
I was recently talking to a global multinational that undertook a full review of how good they really were at changing their business – new processes, new products, restructuring, etc. They employed an external company to do the review against a set of realistic criteria such as achievement of the original change project’s objectives, time to achieve benefits, stakeholder commitment, effective funding, etc.
They ‘kind of thought’ and ‘knew in their hearts’ that they weren’t getting the expected results and that they had very little sight of how change projects were performing as the business environment changed around them. An external organization was used to provide the objectivity and challenge to their thinking that they knew was critical to improving their capacity to change.
So, being very honest and somewhat brave in asking this difficult question, the poor result didn’t really come as a surprise. The extent of the weakness, however, was a shock:
Only 18% of the changes they tried to make were successful.
This, however, did cause management to pay attention. Everyone knew that if they couldn’t deliver change in a planned and coherent way they weren’t going to be in business in the long run.
The analysis was a real call to action against a simple heuristic: ‘only 18% of our change projects succeed’. There could have been a long debate about the measures, the projects conclusions, etc – but the measure didn’t really matter. They all knew they were poor at change, and this gave them a focus and collective understanding of the issue.
A couple of years on, despite a highly unfavorable economic climate, they have made some very impressive progress in a large and complex organization.
If many organizations took this approach, were honest and looked at themselves in the mirror, they probably also wouldn’t like what they saw!
Geoff Carss is VP Sales & Marketing at element8 software. I was previously with Ernst & Young Consulting and IBM Consulting, but I now enjoy working with clients and partners explaining the new ways we can help their organizations transform.