Spinning Your Wheels Trying to Implement Change at Work?

Ready to gain some traction?

People who implement change at work use common phrases to describe the frustration they feel at times:

Herding cats.
Swimming upstream.
Banging my head against the wall.
Spinning my wheels.
Walking through quicksand.
Pushing a boulder uphill.

In other words, it seems like a lot of effort for little or no result. Sound familiar?


After years of working with change agents, I’ve observed that when they describe their situation this way, it’s because their change is stuck. They’ve tried what they thought would work, and change hasn’t happened at the scale they expected.

And while being stuck during change may seem normal, it’s certainly not inevitable.

My work with clients falls into two categories:

  1. Helping those whose change initiatives are stuck get unstuck.
  2. Helping others avoid getting stuck in the first place.

Over the years, I’ve developed a set of activities and templates to help clients plan ahead to reduce obstacles and deal effectively with challenges when they do happen. My approach focuses your effort on the things you need to do so your change initiative can continue making progress, without getting stuck.

And you can get these tools for yourself in the Irresistible Change Guide!





Toolkit:  $147

preorder buttonAvailable August 12, 2014
Irresistible Change Guide toolkit pic

The Irresistible Change Guide provides a straightforward model for thinking about and organizing your change efforts. It includes more than 35 exercises and templates to help you clarify your change, uncover and reduce resistance, gain support, and design ways to influence change on large and small scales.

After working with people in roles as diverse as HR, IT, strategic planning, project management, process improvement, sustainability and change management, I’ve discovered that every change agent faces common challenges, and the approaches to overcoming them is the same.

While there is no one size fits all prescription, the Irresistible Change Guide helps you ask and answer the questions that will help you and your team customize the solutions to the change you seek to implement in your organization. No matter what your change initiative is or what role you play in the organization, this workbook will work for you.

As a result of completing the Irresistible Change Guide, you will:

  • Clarify what really needs to change in your organization to achieve the desired result
  • Pinpoint the underlying causes of resistance and determine how to reduce or eliminate them
  • Define whose support you need and figure out how to get it
  • Figure out which systems, programs and tools will drive the change forward
  • Determine the practical steps you can take to shift individuals and groups
  • Build your personal influence in your organization.

Check out the sidebar to see what other change agents have said after using the Irresistible Change Guide.

Two years ago, I introduced this methodology in the Irresistible Change Guide — published in a giant 3-ring binder. Now I’m relaunching it — with even more activities and templates — as a more functional workbook.

The Irresistible Change Guide will relaunch on August 12.

Pre-order your toolkit today

and you’ll get free registration to the
Define Your Change webinar on September 17.

Using the Irresistible Change Guide, you can implement change yourself with these options:




spiral bound pic templatespic Irresistible Change Guide toolkit pic
Workbook with
Paper Templates
Workbook with
Paper Templates
Immediate download:
PDF Templates
PowerPoint Templates
Bonus Reference Guides
Immediate download:
PDF Templates
PowerPoint Templates
Bonus Reference Guides
Pre-order by August 12
and attend the Sept 17 Define Your Change webinar FREE! (regular price $75)




preorder button buynowbutton preorder button


No matter which option you choose, the time you will save by using the templates is worth more than the price alone, but the real value of the Irresistible Change Guide is the impact you will make by bringing about results.

I am so excited about what the Irresistible Change Guide has already done for clients and what it can do for you too. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to contact me and I will be happy to answer them for you.

May your change initiative be truly irresistible!

Best wishes,

hstagl icon Heather Stagl
Enclaria LLC

Note: If you are a consultant or training organization interested in using the Irresistible Change Guide™ as part of your services, or if you are building an internal change methodology and would like to incorporate all or part of the Irresistible Change Guide™ into your approach, please contact me for bulk pricing or licensing.

Get Your 12 Free Change Management Templates!

Next month, I’m relaunching the Irresistible Change Guide change management toolkit in a new format with several new templates and even more e-templates.

As part of that launch, I’m changing the bonus people get when they subscribe to my newsletter:  12 free change management templates! That’s one PDF template per month for the next 12 months. It’s like a free template-of-the-month club!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, make sure you get your templates too! All you have to do is sign up using the form to the right to add yourself to the list. (If you’re reading this in email or an RSS reader, you’ll have to click through to sign up.)

You’ll get the first template, the Status Quo Inventory, immediately after you sign up!

The 12 templates you’ll receive are:

  • Status Quo Inventory
  • Where is There Exercise
  • Before and After Chart
  • Change Impact Assessment
  • Resistance Assessment
  • Roles and Relationships Diagram
  • Leadership Support Chart
  • Structural Influence Chart
  • Accountability Agreement
  • Customize Your Message Chart
  • Personal Power Inventory
  • Pre-Meeting Checklist

These are not minor templates I’m giving away here. These are the fundamental tools you’ll need to implement any change management initiative.

I look forward to hearing how you use your free templates to help implement an irresistible change initiative!

Interview: How to Avoid and Manage Change-Related Overload

In this episode, Dr. Linda Hoopes, President at Resilience Alliance, returns to the show to discuss the impact of change-related overload. She’ll share tips on how to avoid it, and how to manage it when you can’t.

She answers questions like:

  • Why does change cause overload?
  • How can you tell when people are overloaded?
  • How do you avoid overload?
  • How do you help people deal with overload?

Listen to the show here (30 minutes):

Be sure to visit the radio show page to listen to past episodes and subscribe to the show.

Five Valid Reasons People Are Mad at Your Change Initiative

As change agents, we tend to believe our change initiatives are worthwhile and important. Any negatives we see are eclipsed by the benefits. Otherwise, why would we try to implement them? But even the best change can annoy or anger those whom it impacts.


Why? From our vantage point, we don’t always see the negatives that others will experience. And all the benefits and cheer leading don’t make the negatives go away. Just because your change initiative is going to do great things for the organization, and even for individual employees, doesn’t mean they are going to like it.

The following are five valid reasons people are mad at your change initiative:

They think it’s a bad idea.

Just because you’re trying to improve the company doesn’t mean that others don’t care just as much as you do. Some people will be mad because they have a different idea of what success looks like for the organization. Or, they may believe your logic of how to bring about success is flawed. Would you support a project you think won’t or shouldn’t work? (And what if they’re right?)

It’s inconvenient.

Everyone can’t stop their day-to-day jobs to work on the change. Instead, you’re adding extra work for already busy people. At best, it’s a distraction from their routine. At worst, it causes a major drop in productivity or an increase in hours worked. The paradox is:  to gain the ownership required to sustain change, you’ll need to get more participation, not less.

It’s insulting.

Just the act of suggesting change is necessary will ruffle some feathers. Someone in your organization developed the way it’s done now. And others have been doing the job that way for a while. And now you’re saying it isn’t good enough?

It’s messing with relationships.

Organizations are networks of individual relationships. People develop ways to get things done with others, and change messes with those dynamics. Structural changes are the most obvious way, changing whom people work with and for. You may be forcing someone to work with a colleague they don’t particularly like. Change can also create conflict between people who otherwise got along fine, until you made them interact in new ways.

It’s out of personal alignment.

We can expect with most changes there will be a learning curve:  a temporary productivity loss and some discomfort as people learn new behaviors and skills. That’s normal. But some people won’t like the change because their job has become something they don’t want to do. Perhaps the new way downplays their strengths. Maybe it’s out of sync with their personal ambitions. Would you want to take on a project that’s misaligned with who you are and what you’re good at?

As change agents, we can be so enamored with our project that we can blind ourselves to the change’s affect on others. Because we are so involved in the development and planning, we don’t feel the same impact. Deliberately work to understand why people might be mad at or annoyed by the change. Then you can acknowledge the pain points and help people work through them.

A Declaration of Independence from the Status Quo

I originally published this post on July 4, 2010.  I think you’ll find it bears reposting.

Have you ever read the U.S. Declaration of Independence? It is as much an official document to the King of England as it is a case for change to the rest of the fledgling country it created. (Click the image to the right to read the full text.)

It’s a great model and anyone who would like to compel people to break away from the current state of things. Here are the key parts of the document:

Connection to values

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Acknowledgment that the status quo is easier

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Reasons why the current state can’t be tolerated any further

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The bulk of the document lists a number of egregious offenses by the King, that anyone who valued freedom would find appalling.

Recognition that what we’re doing isn’t working

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”

Clear vision of the future

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

Statement of leadership resolve

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Wow. Thomas Jefferson sure knew how to craft a case for change.

If your organization wrote a Declaration of Independence from its status quo, what would it say?

Interview: CQ: How to Develop Your Change Intelligence

What’s your CQ?  This month, Barbara Trautlein, author of Change Intelligence and Principal at Change Catalysts, joins the show to discuss the types of change intelligence and how to develop yours to become more influential at work.

Download the white paper Barbara mentioned here:  Five Strategies for Leading Change in Challenging Times.

Listen to the show here (30 minutes):

Be sure to visit the radio show page to listen to past episodes and subscribe to the show.

50 Questions That Engage Employees in Change

Recently, I was going through some old boxes and found a journal from 2004 when I worked as an internal change agent in the role of Director of Organizational Effectiveness. Most of the notebook was filled with observations and ideas for how to implement that new role. Within its pages, I found a great list of questions I had used to increase employee engagement. I thought I would share the questions with you.

business problems or question and help symbol

As a change practitioner, engaging employees is an important part of your job. To reduce resistance and increase ownership, you need to engage people in the change you are implementing, involving them and giving them some control of their situation. Employee engagement may in fact be the change you seek to implement, involving those who are doing the work to identify problems and solutions to improve the organization.

One of the best tools you can use to engage employees is a question about things that affect their own work. Combine that with an ear for listening and the ability to help them clarify, explore and pursue it, and you can spark ideas and invite someone to be a part of helping the organization. Frame the question around the change you want to implement, and you’ll gain a partner to help you get it done.

Here are 50 questions that can be used to start the conversation and engage employees:

  1. What annoyed you in the last 15 minutes?
  2. What makes you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall?
  3. What needs a process?
  4. What should we stop doing?
  5. What could benefit from better coordination?
  6. What department should know more about what you do everyday?
  7. What do we waste?
  8. What do you roll your eyes at?
  9. What do we use too much of?
  10. What could we use more of?
  11. What is broken?
  12. What are you afraid to suggest?
  13. Where do we contradict ourselves?
  14. Where are things falling through the cracks?
  15. What is shrouded in mystery?
  16. What should we automate?
  17. What gets in the way of doing your job flawlessly?
  18. What fires do you constantly put out?
  19. Where could we use a little more structure?
  20. Where could we use a little more consistency?
  21. Where could we use a little more flexibility?
  22. What should we protect?
  23. What do we need to be especially good at?
  24. What do we need to take more seriously?
  25. What do we need to take less seriously?
  26. What should we do that would never work in a million years?
  27. What do we do that an outsider would think is crazy?
  28. What do we do that an outsider would think is awesome?
  29. What could we do better if we just had more information?
  30. What part of this is boring?
  31. What part of this is aggravating?
  32. How could we serve customers better?
  33. If you were in charge, what would you want done better?
  34. What do you have to do over?
  35. If you did this work, how would you do it differently?
  36. If (someone else) did this work, how would they do it differently?
  37. What should you suggest, even though it might hurt someone’s feelings?
  38. What should you suggest, even though it might make someone look bad?
  39. What should you suggest, even though it might make you look bad?
  40. If there were something you could wave a magic wand on, what would it be?
  41. What would you tell someone to discourage them from working here?
  42. What do we spend too much money on?
  43. What do we not spend enough money on?
  44. Whose job would you want and why?
  45. Whose job would you not want and why?
  46. Where could we use a symphony conductor?
  47. What do we not pay enough attention to?
  48. What do we seem to care too much about?
  49. Where are we missing a piece of the puzzle?
  50. What should we flush down the toilet and start over?

There are a number of ways you can use these questions to spark engagement. Use some of them in one-on-one conversations to collect experiences and see others’ points of view. Build a few into a meeting or workshop to get people talking about things they usually wouldn’t. Include them in a newsletter or other communication vehicle with an invitation to answer and an easy way to participate. When it comes to engagement, asking is far more effective than telling.

Asking great questions starts with genuine curiosity. To turn them into questions that engage, follow through by helping people define solutions, and make sure they can find the means to implement them.

It’s Time to Abolish the 70% Change Failure Rate Statistic

You don’t have to be in or near the field of change management long before you hear a daunting statistic:  70% of change initiatives fail.

It’s mentioned in passing as a fact in most change management books and articles nowadays. I’ve quoted the statistic myself in presentations, and I’m sure the mention of the number has helped me (and many others) gain business over the years. Google “70% change failure rate,” and you’ll see 1.96 million results.

The trouble — and the great news — is that there is no solid evidence that it’s true.


In 2011, Mark Hughes of the University of Brighton wrote about his research into the source of the statistic in The Journal of Change Management:  Do 70 per cent of all organizational change initiatives really fail?  I encourage you to read it for yourself, but to summarize, he found that all the references can be traced back to a few main books or articles:

  • In 1993, Michael Hammer and James Champy stated in Reengineering the Corporation:

“Sadly, we must report that despite the success stories described in previous chapters, many companies that begin reengineering don’t succeed at it…Our unscientific estimate is that as many as 50 percent to 70 percent of the organizations that undertake a reengineering effort do not achieve the dramatic results they intended.”

  • One quote that never seems to be mentioned is this follow up in 1995, where Michael Hammer said:

“In Reengineering the Corporation, we estimated that between 50 and 70 percent of reengineering efforts were not successful in achieving the desired breakthrough performance. Unfortunately, this simple descriptive observation has been widely misrepresented and transmogrified and distorted into a normative statement…There is no inherent success or failure rate for reengineering.”

  • Another oft-quoted source is Beer and Nohria’s 2000 HBR article, Cracking the Code of Change, in which they state, with no reference or evidence whatsoever, “The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.” How do they know?
  • In 2008, John Kotter wrote in his book A Sense of Urgency, “From years of study, I estimate today more than 70 per cent of needed change either fails to be launched, even though some people clearly see the need, fails to be completed even though some people exhaust themselves trying, or finishes over budget, late and with initial aspirations unmet.” Again, this is an estimate (albeit from one of the fathers of change management) and not a research-based statement. Interestingly, many people quote the 70% failure rate in John Kotter’s seminal HBR article, “Leading Change” from 1995, but the statistic just isn’t there. In that article, he does say, “I have watched more than 100 companies…make fundamental changes in how business is conducted. A few of these corporate change efforts have been very successful. A few have been utter failures. Most fall somewhere in between, with a distinct tilt toward the lower end of the scale.”
  • In 2009, McKinsey published “The Inconvenient Truth about Change Management,” in which they first incorrectly referenced John Kotter’s 1995 article, then shared the results of their own survey of “1,546 business executives from around the world, asking them if they consider their change programs “completely/mostly” successful: only 30 percent agreed.” This is the closest thing to real research Hughes found, but does that mean that everything short of complete success is a failure? He also found in the same set of research that only 10% of executives said their change programs were completely/mostly unsuccessful. Isn’t that closer to a failure rate, in the truest sense of the term? And notice the number is based on the opinion of executives, and not an actual study tracking projects over time to see if they actually achieved their goals.

In my own digging into this topic, I’ve found experts like Ken Blanchard and Daryl Conner also referenced their own research and estimates that 70% of change initiatives fail, without citing specific evidence. It’s hard to argue with the experts! But for a statistic that is taken as truth at this point, there is a serious lack of concrete evidence.

The 2008 “Making Change Work” study by IBM shares a survey of more than 1500 change practitioners, in which they found that 41% of projects met their objectives. The remaining 59% missed at least one objective or failed completely. It’s important to point out that this statistic is not 70%! And it also assumes again that anything short of perfect is failure.

Is change management challenging? Yes. Do we always get the results we expect?  No. We can’t predict with certainty how people will react to change and what will work to move them in the same direction. Measuring ourselves with a failure rate ignores the fact that change is a discovery process. What we think success will look like and what it looks like when we get there may be vastly different, and it’s something that is uncovered as you manage the change.

If the 70% failure rate is a myth, it explains why:

  • The number never changes, even as change management becomes more prevalent in business.
  • Despite the authors and consultants that tout the failure rate statistic, none of them claim that their methodology has a better success rate.
  • It is only ever used to sell the importance of change management or to get people’s attention in an article. The statistic is not used to help us get better, because there is no data to show us what’s really going on.

So let’s call it like it is:  The 70% failure rate is a myth, an urban legend. Let’s stop claiming that “studies show” and it’s “a well-known fact” that 70% of change projects fail. If you have real data, by all means, please share it. But let’s stop perpetuating a misleading statistic that has no concrete evidence.

Instead, let’s rejoice that our projects do not have a 70% chance of being doomed from the start. Through steady plodding, stepping out with courage, and using practices that respect and involve the people going through the change, our projects can succeed.

Other bloggers who have also explored the myth of the 70% failure rate make some great points as well:

Poll Results: Issues that Hinder Progress of Change

Last week I presented “How Change Gets Stuck” at a webinar hosted by the Association of Change Management Practitioners. I shared 10 ways change typically loses momentum during implementation.

As part of the presentation, I conducted a poll:  “Which of the following likely hindered progress on your current or most recent change initiative?”

The 67 attendees were all members of ACMP and presumably either internal or external change practitioners. The responses give us a glimpse into which issues are most pervasive:

ACMP poll chart 140522

% of Webinar Attendees

I was surprised at first that the #1 way change gets stuck was the change agent’s own Limited Personal Influence. I expected Lack of Leadership Support, the one I most often hear people complain about, to be at the top of the list. But when I think about it, Limited Influence subtly underscores the inability to control the rest of the items on the list. It’s knowing what needs to be done and not being able to do it.

More than half of all change initiatives in the poll were also plagued by Only Scratching the Surface (the habit of not identifying the underlying behaviors, mindsets and culture that also need to change)  or “Overcoming” Resistance (our tendency to address the things people do that signal resistance, instead of uncovering and addressing the source of the resistance).

Notice also the items at the bottom:  Death by Meeting and Getting Off to a False Start. Even though they are last on the list, almost 25% of attendees said these issues held their change initiatives back. Think about that. Almost 1 in 4 change initiatives were affected by the least pervasive problems.

What do you think this data tells us? What would you expect, and what surprises you?

Did you miss the webinar?  If you are an ACMP member, you can watch the webinar here.  If not, you can attend the same presentation at the August 19 ATD (formerly ASTD) webinar, registration open to all.

Interview: Using the Power of Conversations to Influence Change

In this episode, Ankit Patel, Managing Partner of The Lean Way Consulting, discusses how to use the natural information flows in your organization to influence change. Listen in to learn the different types of conversations that happen in organizations, and how to tap into them to get people talking about the right things.

Listen to the show here (30 minutes):

Be sure to visit the radio show page to listen to past episodes and subscribe to the show.