Failing to fail, how to drive successful change management

By Scott Alexander

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Large-scale organizational change has always been difficult and has often proved to be the bane of most executives’ professional lives. Change initiatives are difficult to implement successfully, especially if not planned for appropriately. The implications of getting things wrong can be disastrous but worryingly failures are common: according to a study by Towers Watson it is estimated that 75 percent of digital change initiatives fail to fulfil their ambition due to ineffective planning and management. Failure to plan and implement digital change properly will lead ultimately to lower levels of adoption, underutilized best practice, stifled innovation, and stalled continuous improvement. In addition, many employees will lag behind and find themselves on the wrong side of a widening technology maturity gap. However, for not only success but mere survival, this cannot be the case as customers are now digital ‘by default’, meaning setbacks in digital delivery can be catastrophic.

So why does change ‘go wrong’ and how should an organization tackle a change management initiative?  Our belief is that ‘not all change is the same’ and the best approach differs with circumstances.

Understand why change initiatives fail

The first requirement is to understand how change initiatives fail:  the reason may be:  

  • All change gets treated with the same approach
  • Not learning from change management failures in the past
  • Flaws in the management process: in defining the target state, persuading and winning acceptance, implementation, and post-implementation monitoring.

We need to recognize at what point failure might occur in the change process. For example, end-users might not be aware of the change, they might not understand the change, they might not embrace the change and ultimately not support the change.

We need to recognize that not all change is the same. For example, is it transformational or transactional? We need to understand how the change will affect people, processes and technology differently. Thinking ahead will help to avoid mistakes.

Deciding what to do

So, what should be done to drive effective change and avoid the pitfalls along the way?? We argue that a well-designed methodology should consider user behavior in order to accelerate adoption rates, increase the uptake of best practice, enable continuous improvement and optimize the user experience.

A successful change management methodology calls for the following:

  • Understanding the vision, goals and strategy of the organization: this is crucial to defining the change management plan
  • Establish the business case and establish measurable goals. The business case should justify the change financially, and the measurable goals establish a baseline and target for moving forward
  • Address internal governance issues, primarily sponsor engagement and monitoring. Sponsor engagement is necessary to lock in goals but also to participate in organizational communication efforts
  • Develop a comprehensive communications plan. Communications should be at the core of the change management plan, to create awareness, understanding, adoption and best practice utilization
  • Establish a new operating model that includes education and a guide to ongoing change management initiatives. The process of change never ends, even after the initial implementation of change is completed.

Ultimately, if these actions are adequately addressed, they will allow organizations to bridge organizational and technology gaps that so often plague investments into digital technologies.

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