Reconsidering Why Managing Change Hasn’t Worked

May 15, 2018

Reconsidering Why Managing Change Hasn’t Worked

Experts—whether external consultants, academics, or corporate practitioners—triangulate on the same poor statistics when it comes to managing change. Most change and transformation initiatives—no matter how well intentioned and planned—fail.

Managing change is a competency essential for every leader and even each employee to demonstrate. With so much advice and so many models available, why has it been so difficult for leadership to apply a repeatable approach that works? Having led or co-led major change and transformation workstreams and having taught managing organizational change to MBAs and HR leaders, a few insights and reflections come to mind.

First, many of us with myself included, have not sufficiently focused on a small number of key minimum-for-success and “implementable” leadership deliverables. Rather than making it simple, we have provided a complex set of phases and steps with many stage dependent or required to be achieved at simultaneous points in time.

After reviewing many of the models, approaches, and advice, if we can focus on just a small number of elements and provide behavioral examples of play- by-play, we would increase confidence that “I can manage this and be successful.” As opposed to what a senior leader said to me during a major transformation: “I know that this is important, but I just don’t have the time now.” We must thoughtfully focus on both the rationale and the emotional impacts of change, starting with the leaders.

We are familiar with these key components of the change process, in basic form:

  1. Start with the leadership and fully define sponsorship, including what that means along with providing examples of the necessary behaviors with no option for absenteeism. If this is staff driven rather than line driven, your trouble has started.
  2. Develop the business case for change and a clear sense of the future and how things will eventually be different. This is usually described as the “why” we are changing and the “what” we are changing. Construct in this case for change and description of the future what is important to and for all levels of the organization. This requires advance knowledge of your stakeholders. Often forgotten, include what will not change and what happens if there is no change.
  3. Fully engage with all impacted/affected stakeholders. This is an opportunity for inquiry and advocacy, to learn how these changes will be perceived, what matters the most to various groups of employees, and why. In addition, and often overlooked, stakeholder engagement is an opportunity to assess the readiness of the organization and its employees for change.
  4. Build a roadmap that includes actions and milestones for employees, scheduled project and employee reviews, feedback, and course corrections. Illustrate and include key guideposts and milestones that start with today, moving through the transition, and continuing until the changes are operating in place. This is often referred to as the “how” we are going to implement the change (and to know when it has happened).
  5. Actions and behaviors to sustain the implemented changes. Thinking in advance about how systems thinking can reinforce what we are now doing differently, prevent slippage, and how can this become and remain second nature.

Targeted and compelling communications are also important along with effective project management. However, a great project plan does not equate to the successful management of change. Nor do glossy communications that are not believed or credible. The starting place is having a clear, concise, and consumable change “wire frame” that leaders can further shape and define, thus increasing ownership and constant visibility.

The Authors: 

Steve Steckler has worked with business and HR executives across industries to develop and align strategy, increase leadership effectiveness, successfully execute transformations, and introduce and sustain change to achieve top-line growth. He held senior HR leadership roles at a number of the most admired global companies including Microsoft; Marriott International; TRW; Merck, KGaA; WPP; CIBA-GEIGY; and Citibank. As a consultant, he is leveraging his “big company” experience to impact small to mid-sized companies, associations, and nonprofits. Contact him at