The top 3 reasons that change programs fail

None of us get it all right all the time.  But there’s three critical reasons I’ve noticed that change programs fail.  That’s what I’m talking about in this week’s video – and a couple of those reasons might surprise you!

So if you’re curious about building a learning organisation…. View on!​​

Video transcript and relevant links

Hey Danelle Jones here from tribe Leadership Retreats and today I wanted to talk to you about the three reasons that change programs fail.

First off, the beginning and the end.  Change programs, transformation… it’s not a project.  And I’ll have all the project manager jump up in a minute and say but we need to know where we’re starting from and where we’re getting too so that we can manage ourselves through the process.  Not so much in transformation.

What we’re aiming for in transformation is not to start at point A and end up at point B, and then once we reach B decide that we’re done and that’s it and it’s over, we’re transformed.  That’s not what it’s about. Transformation is this ongoing process about building a learning culture in an organisation, and it’s about continuing to push yourself into that space of change and reinvention and yeah it can be pretty uncomfortable.  So just when you think you’re getting settled, that’s when you know it’s time to keep moving and to do the next piece.

So that’s the first reason change programs fail, because we start out thinking we’ve got to get to a point and then we’ll be done.  That’s not the case at all.

Second reason they fail is because we often set these programs, these pieces of work up to solve a problem that we see.

Maybe we see that the business isn’t as agile as you would like, we are unable to respond to market conditions and so we set up this just project to say “right” we’re going to improve business agility.  But the real trick is, are you solving the problems that your stakeholders see? And so the reason that large change programs fail is because all too often we are talking about problems that we see. We’re not solving the problems that they see.  

Now remember anyone who’s going to judge your competence will judge your competence based on your ability to solve the problems that THEY see.  We get this again and again and again in IT right, so we’ll get a large piece of IT work that’s going on and the IT team will be down in the weeds of this particular technology that we’re going to use because Google is using it and therefore if we’re using it that means that we’re a more competent IT team.  

But the reality is that often the business unit that has asked for a particular piece of work to be done, they’re not interested at all in what technology you’re using. They’re interested in whether or not you solve their problem.

So the second reason big change programs fail, is because we solve the problem we see, not the problem THEY see.

The third reason big change programs fail? This one’s a doozey.  It’s because we make it a program.

When you make it a program, when you make it a big thing, then people have something to push back against.  And they’ll push back on it and they’ll reject it, because it’s a big thing. And when we make big programs it also encourages this personality cult around leaders.  It encourages this hero mentality of somebody who’s able to lead from point A to point B and to deliver an outcome.  

The piece that you’re missing, which is absolutely critical,  is that when we’re in that mode of big personality, solve a particular problem, get to point B, delivery… you miss the thinking change that goes along the way.  And so the minute that person leaves the organisation the whole thing falls behind them, because it was always dependent on that person.

And so if we make change programs a thing…  They’re always bound to fail, because we’re putting somebody in a situation where they have to deliver, the minute that person who is super super passionate about it walks out the door… everybody goes back the way they used to do things.  You’re not focused on the right change, which is the change in thinking that’s required across everybody in the organisation to move to that culture of continuous improvement, continuous learning and ongoing change.

So that’s it.  That’s the top 3 reasons why big change programs fail.  Love to hear your comments. Let me know if you’ve fallen into one of those traps before.  Maybe you’re in the middle of one of those traps now and I’d love to hear how you think you’re going to get yourself out of it.

Have a wonderful day and we’ll see you next week!

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