Only 30% Initiatives Succeed, 70% Fail:
Most organizational change efforts cost more and take longer than leaders and managers anticipate; two of three transformations fail. On average, 50% of strategy executions, 70% organizational changes, 80% New Year’s resolutions, and 85% digital transformations fail to deliver as originally intended.
Why Do Transformations Fail?
If this was a research paper, we would be diving into root-cause analysis and hypothesis testing, conclude with findings, and develop corrective and preventive actions to address controllable causes. We will not that. This being a practical post, we start with the solution and learn the theory along the way. There are plenty of mythical causes and sophisticated mechanism used to explain why most transformations fail but at the end, it comes down to the fact that “bare bone basics” are missing or weak. Let’s start with the most basic: “What do you want to achieve and why?”
Create a Vision to Jump-Start Your Journey
Humans have a unique ability to see the future before it happens. We can visualize how we believe the world will be and begin to take action to make it happen. But how do we create a compelling vision? Keep it simple, start with the problem or pain point.
A Vision Needs a Problem as "Rocket Fuel"
By Creating a Vision, We Pinpoint the Problem to Be Solved
By envisioning the endpoint, the Future State (vision, gain), and establishing the starting point, the Current State (problem, pain), we have a clearly-defined distance to travel, a gap to close and problem to solve. Describe those two states as clearly as you can, using facts, figures (metrics), and emotions, such as what’s frustrating about the current state and what’s really exciting about the future state.
Now, Answer 7 Questions to Define the Situation and Context - Be 100% Clear or Don't Start
Do not fall into the trap of addressing the wrong issue or jumping into action without clearly understanding the situation and context. Only start a project or assign resources after having answered all 7 key questions. The gathered information is essential for developing a solid project charter, communicating the need for change, and convincing people to get on board.
- What do we want to achieve? Define the vision, mission, goal, objective, the “must-win battle”.
- Why is it important? Why should anyone care? What is in for them? Define the incentives.
- Where to focus? Define the scope, what is included and what is excluded.
- Who is involved? Who leads and who supports? Define ownership, roles, responsibilities.
- When do we start? When to finish? Define the top 3-5 milestones and due dates.
- How do we measure success? Define 1-3 indicators (KPI’s) to measure progress and impact.
- How much do we plan to invest and expect to benefit? Define the business case.
The 7 Key Factors to Successful Change
The model for Managing Complex Change by Tim Knoster (1991) provides a good starting point, but its five factors do not explain everything. In our experience, there are seven factors to consider, adding Alignment and Communication to Knoster’s five-factor model.
Successful Change Management: The 7 Factors
Change Management Failure: The 7 Reasons
The 7 Factors that Make Projects Succeed or Fail
Effective change requires Vision, Alignment, Resources, Plan, Skill, Incentives, and Communication. If any of these key success factors (KSF) is missing, the transformation program will fail or fall short:
- No Vision → People are confused about the direction or the reasons for change.
- No Alignment → People resist a change that they don’t understand or disagree with.
- No resources → People are frustrated when lacking the means to move forward.
- No Plan → People don’t know where to start or what to do next.
- No Skills → People feel anxious when not having the abilities to be successful.
- No Incentives → People will not act if the change that has no clear benefits for them.
- No Communication → People who are uninformed will not take part in the change.
Vision → prevent confusion
Alignment → prevent resistance
Never assume to have the power to push through change without gaining alignment. Especially for flat organizations and self-directed teams, the underlying concept of buy-in is critical. True alignment is achieved when people leave the meeting fully on board with whatever decision the group has reached, with no “Yes-but”, no “Plan-B”, no pocket vetoes, and no reservations about fully investing themselves in pursuing the agreed upon direction as their own. The ultimate test is when those participants explain the decision and direction to their teams, ensuring full buy-in.
Resources → prevent frustration
Resources include the time, people, budget, information, tools, equipment to make the change happen and accomplish a goal. A lack of necessary resources leaves people frustrated: “I can’t do this because I don’t have X”. Always budget resources early in the process; build-in some flexibility to allow for unforeseen circumstances, but strictly manage the scope to avoid “scope creep” and “goal creep” that would demand additional resources and potentially derails the project or program. Check: What do we need to get it done? Do we have all required resources secured?
Plan → prevent false starts and course corrections
Without a clear plan, gaining traction and moving forward is nearly impossible, causing false starts and frequent course corrections. It makes people feel like they are going round and round without any clear direction and without real progress, even though they are working diligently. We need an action plan to make the vision concrete and actionable. Such roadmap defines how goals are to be reached, articulates who is responsible, specifies desired results and deliverables, and lays out a timeline with specific milestones and tasks for achieving set goals. Additionally, a formal plan makes progress measurable, so problems can be identified early and corrected quickly, keeping the project on track. Check: How robust is your project plan?
Skills → prevent anxiety
Providing training to build required skills is important to eliminate a common reaction to change: “I don’t know how.” Lack of skills creates anxiety, and fear paralyzes people and makes them unable to move forward and perform. Therefore, start training people early in the process so that required skills are in place when needed. Check: Do people have the skills and expertise to perform and implement the change? What type of training is required?
Incentives → prevent apathy and slowness
Communication → prevent disconnects
Setting SMART Goals for Your Journey
Setting SMART-ER Goals
The SMART framework brings structure and traceability into your goals and objectives. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely. It helps you to clarify the vision, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving what you want in life, personally and professionally. For the exercise below, we made the goal SMART-ER by adding Evaluated and Released, ensuring the goal was formally reviewed and officially approved.
- Specific: What do we want to accomplish? Why is this goal important?
- Measurable: How do we track progress? Which metric? How much change is required?
- Achievable: How can we accomplish this goal? Do we have the skills, time, budget?
- Relevant: Is the goal worthwhile? Does it meet our needs?
- Timely: Is there a plan? When to start and finish? What are the steps and milestones?
- Evaluated: Was the goal evaluated by key stakeholders? Is everyone committed?
- Released: Was the goal officially approved and released?
Test Your Change Program
1. Vision Check:
- How much
2. Change Check:
3. Goal Check: