Human Factors: Why your change and transformation programme failed

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Human factors: Why transformations fail

LONDON 30 MAY 2014 — Why do change programmes ‎fail to deliver the intended value? Why do so many good programme managers and technically gifted change managers continue to under-perform when it comes to delivering the benefits of transformations?


That’s the simplest of answers. People get in the way.

Let’s look at three key areas where change and transformation programmes consistently fall down:


1. Initiation of the programme

“It was meant to be a 100 day programme. And we’re now looking at one year without any significant movement.”

Getting started can be surprisingly difficult. There are so many people who can get in the way.

The project team can be very slow to form. The mandate or programme charter can be difficult to agree. Senior leaders can resist the change and slow the progress. And teams can simply fail to initiate any real action.

Do you see the common thread there?

Humans often become the determining factor. People tend to (unintentionally) slow the process down.


2. Delivering change

“We are tracking benefits and seeing progress. There was a lot of positive energy. But now the business seems to have moved on.”

Sometimes things are going so well that key people get reassigned to other tasks. And this is just one way that transformation programmes can fail. Seeing things through is a big, big challenge at every step of the way.

Many programmes start well, but seemingly run out of energy and ‎grind to a halt. Like abandoned petrol stations on a desert road — you can often see signs of programmes-past by looking across employees’ desktops where commemorative mugs and stress-balls sit.

Research we have seen says that up to 70% of the programme benefits are not sustained three years after the programmes have concluded.

However that’s only one way that programmes fail to deliver. Every day in different ways, technically excellent programmes can fail to connect to the specific people that they are trying to involve in the change. “Change and transformation plans” leave out the actual agents of change. People play no role. And in playing no role, the change fails.


3. Change capability

“‎If you have to choose between hitting you numbers or going to that workshop, I know what I’d suggest you do.”

When change management isn’t part of your day job, how can you be expected to do it well? And most managers and leaders, and as a result most employees, are not‎ pre-disposed to manage change effectively. It is generally not an organisational capability.

Change management is difficult work. And through our Able and How Change Index we have consistently shown at world-class global businesses that people find ways to stifle and often smother change.

Middle managers aren’t properly involved. Accountability isn’t shared. Systems and processes aren’t aligned to the behaviours that need changing. And the list goes on.


The area that one of our favourite CEOs memorably called the “cloudy world of change” does not need to be confused and confusing. Transformation programmes all around the world can be made to hit their targets. In fact they can relatively easily exceed their targets.

All that is required is for people to play their part in making the changes happen. We have seen it. We have driven those changes. And we have seen the values that they can deliver.


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