Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Change Efforts Fail Over 70% of the Time - Why?

There are many reasons why efforts to transform and change an organization fail.

Whether it’s the whole company or simply a department — over 70% of all change efforts do not succeed.

The reasons why fall into one or more of these broad categories:

• Poor communication
• Lack of top level commitment
• Unfocused or half hearted efforts
• Poor planning

However, I think these are actually symptoms of a more fundamental flaw: the very paradigm we hold of organizations. The current paradigm is that an organization is a machine of production.

When viewed from within this framework, all actions to change are merely efforts to reprogram the machine. Hence, we get a set of instructions from the top about the new change and that is sufficient - the machine has been successfully reprogrammed. Even if we bring in change agent consultants the same underlying belief permeates and guides all behaviors.

Clearly, this is an oversimplification but I hope a useful example to illustrate how the underlying worldview is foundational to the symptoms we all witness and experience.

Even the System Approach, while a step in the right direction, is not sufficient. While the approach looks at the many moving parts, it still holds that an organization is a "machine," a complex machine — but a machine, nevertheless.

It is my view that organizations are living entities. They are organic systems with physiology, emotions, and spiritual context. They are comprised of other living entities (our people) that are in active exchange of energy (the activities they do) in concert with others (relationships) both within the organization (the inside world) and with their environment (the outside world). And all of this is driven by the Context of the organization, its underlying belief systems, which we call culture at the organizational level.

When looking at WHY change efforts fail, it’s because we do not approach the change from this holistic organic view of the organization. We ignore many of the forces (in a simple force field analysis) that are supporting and restraining the change. By looking at the organization as The Living Organization®, we would be able to more clearly identify all the parameters of change, not just what to do or how to do it, but the energy of existing relationships and the energy of the underlying, often unconscious, Context that defines and drives all behaviors.

Norman Wolfe
Quantum Leaders, Inc.
Executing Strategy