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What’s the Problem with Organisational Change?

If you lived one hundred years ago and you asked, “What’s the problem with organisational change?”, a good answer would have been, “We have no scientific understanding of what to do.”

Since those days, countless books, articles, courses, programs, and experts have come along telling essentially the same message – research tells us there is a right way to manage change in organisations. We have had this knowledge since the 1930’s and 1940’s when Lewin published his work. Over the past 20-30 years what to do has come more sharply into focus through the writings of Kotter and others.

Yet despite this, there is still a serious problem. Most organisational change fails to deliver. Kotter, McKinsey, and countless others estimate that around 70% of organisational change fails. Daryl Connor, author of ‘Managing at the Speed of Change’, sums this up: “the sobering statistics are about the same as when our profession started promoting itself as the solution to the 70% problem.”

Ouch! Is the problem that, despite the knowledge of what to do, change is still being poorly managed? Or could it be that some other key ingredient is still missing?

We believe it is a mixture of both these factors. Change is, sadly, poorly managed in many cases. And we believe the missing ingredient is change readiness. Change needs to be managed well, but good management alone is not enough. The people who are affected by the change and the organisation that is to be transformed by the change must be ready for the change. Whenever readiness is in short supply, change is destined to fail.

What is Change Readiness?

Change readiness is readiness for the change process and the change project. It consists of 4 key elements:

  1. The readiness of the change leadership team, senior leaders, and key change agents to lead the change project
  2. The readiness of all stakeholders to succeed at the change process (this involves their ‘change fitness’ to successfully navigate the change process)
  3. The readiness of all stakeholders to engage in the change process and support the change project
  4. The readiness of the organisation to support and nurture the change project throughout the change process

Unless you have these 4 elements functioning effectively, you are not ready for the change and your risks of failure are high. Read more about the costs of low change readiness.