The oft-quoted 70% failure rate of organizational change initiatives bothers me. Not in the sense of “Oh my gosh change is so hard,” but it just seems too black-and-white for reality. Some even exploit the statistic to imply that change is near impossible (without spending big bucks on consulting fees). I’m not saying the statistic is wrong – just that you should understand it so you are not misled.
The standard definition for change success is that the initiative was on time, on budget, and did what it was expected to do. I can think of several good reasons why a change would not succeed (fail?) by this definition, but still be a success for the organization.
- First of all, we are notoriously bad at making predictions, and thus at setting our expectations. Simply being more realistic about the time, effort, and resources necessary to implement change would do wonders on this statistic.
- You know the saying, if you want to understand an organization, try to change it? Change is a discovery process. You can’t know everything up front. Part way into the initiative, you may discover something new and decide to go a different direction. Good for the organization, bad for the statistic.
- Because implementation can take a while, the situation can change during the course of a project. Conditions change in the marketplace that makes leaders change their mind or even cancel the program. Technically the initiative has failed, even though changing course was the right thing to do.
Change takes effort, but the outlook is not as dire as the statistic suggests. Your role is not futile. Change agents can start to improve the success of change by simply working to better manage expectations.