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How to avoid change programmes failing before they even start

by Paul Arnold

“The programme started with a real bang, but it’s surprising how soon it lost momentum.”

How often do we hear leaders complain that their change efforts started promisingly, but then all too quickly lost shape, support and relevance? Why do only 1:3 change programmes succeed? Many people will say it is down to poor design. Or poor execution. Or both.

At Able and How, we have learnt that the number of change programmes succeeding dramatically increases when more effort goes into preparing the ground before any announcement or launch to the wider organisation. If change efforts are launched too quickly, they catch employees, managers, project teams and even leaders off-guard.

Here we highlight three major challenges leaders of change face in the early stages of a programme.

Challenge 1: keep up with a runaway leadership team

Challenge 2: promote substance over style

Challenge 3: focus on the destination as well as the journey

Announcing or launching a change programme is like firing a pistol at the starting line of a race. Ready or not, the runners are off.

The three challenges above are all too often overlooked in the early hubbub and excitement of change. Ignoring them will certainly diminish the chances of success. Doing them does not mitigate the need to do everything else – readiness assessment, identifying benefits, onboarding, mobilising leaders etc. However, unless you fancy your odds of 1:3 success rate, firing the gun only when you’re ready is a good way to improve your chances of success.

Paul Arnold is Managing Director of Able and How. He has written extensively on change management and has worked with some of the world’s biggest companies, helping mobilise leaders and engaging employees with change.

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