Why Change Initiatives Fail

Just some of the mistakes that must be avoided to ensure changes stick

There are so many different titles for making a change in business, and there are many more. So why is it that very many of these change management activities fail?  It doesn’t really matter which sector we consider, some form of change activity will have taken place recently, will be in planning or will be due to start in most businesses. 

Competent business leaders know that in order to survive and grow they need to upgrade their products and services. Changing the way they operate is no different as the operational side of a business, i.e. the way it does what it does, always has to fit with its output. So, if we accept that change is necessary, why do so many initiatives fail to live up to expectations?

Not Enough Time

Quite simply, despite extensive efforts to work out what makes sense to change, piloting changes and communicating with all who need to know, impatience can still win the day. The change can be deemed a failure if it doesn’t deliver quickly and something else, another change, is started in its place. 

What of course this misses is that for all but the most basic of changes it takes time to really see the benefits of a change coming through in improved sales, reduced costs, faster turn-round of inventory or whatever it is that needs improving. So, give the change enough time to become the new ‘business as usual’ and measure what needs to be measured to confirm whether or not there was a benefit or not.

Wrong Changes Made

Insufficient analysis up front as to what needs to change can be an absolute disaster if it means that processes or organisational structures change that were working perfectly well in the first place. This does not mean that you should spend months and months analyzing a situation, paralysis can come about through too much analysis. It does mean taking sufficient time to gauge what is really going on. 

So how best to do this?  Engage with those people and groups who really know how things are and can help design the change. This could be your own employees but equally could be your suppliers and customers. Explain to them what you perceive the issue to be and what you want to achieve and they will let you know what they think.

Changed Priorities

The business environment is constantly changing and each company needs to stay ahead of the game in order to survive and grow.  So, if something needs to change then that is not a problem in its own right providing it is the right change and is implemented correctly. The problem here is when one change comes on the back of another which has hardly had time to become the norm and the new change has unintended impacts on the original. 

Employees become extremely weary of continuous change that they may see as change for the sake of change and if this happens the engagement you want from them will slowly evaporate.  So, don’t overdo the change thing, keep it to only when you really need to change something.

Ego Led Change

This is surely the worst kind of change that can happen within a business. Many leaders believe that in order to make an impact and become known within their organizations (or indeed sectors) they must make a change as soon as they arrive. After all, why have they been brought in if not to improve on their predecessor? And to be seen to be doing something significant it goes without saying that the changes that have to be made have to be significant too. 

Significant changes made with insufficient analysis to boost the ego and job prospects of leaders can have catastrophic effects on productivity and morale. 

So how do you avoid it?  Make sure you recruit the right people for leadership positions and ensure their objectives and targets make sense – never easy but vital to get right so well worth the effort and resources involved.


Changes can be made that really benefit businesses in the way they operate and improve profitability. Avoid making changes too often, expecting immediate improvements as soon as a change is made, making the wrong change and letting leaders instigate a change just to show that they can and there is a great chance that if you need to make a change it will be a success.

Picture courtesy of HikingArtist.com


9 thoughts on “Why Change Initiatives Fail

  1. Pingback: Why Change Initiatives Fail | HR Transformation...

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  4. I Agree with you, you got a lot of good points. One important thing that in my experience is often neglected, is to get the “change agents” involved in the early stages. Important to get the one everyone listens to, which isn’t always the boss, onboard with you. Once you get them onboard, they are the best on communicating the need for change to the rest of the organization. I think that information should start eary on, even if it’s just to let people know that work is being done, and somethings are gonna be different down the road. You might intriuge motivated employees who want to be a part of that, and most importantly everyone needs time to adapt to the thought that things are gonna change. Even if it’s just to let people know that they are going to get more information down the road, and can speak their mind about it. Resistance to the change might even give a fresh perspective, and contribute in a positive way in the long run.

    • Hilde, Thank-you for your comment. I particularly like your point about getting onboard the person that everyone listens to. You are absolutely right to point out that this is not always the ‘boss’, it can be anyone in fact and they have a great deal of influence in change situations. Communication is so important as it helps to reduce the number of rumours that will always occur as people try and figure out for themselves what might happen next. Thanks again. Paul

  5. Good post, Paul. On reading this, I’m reminded of a couple key characteristics of systems which come into play when ‘change’ is set in motion. The first one that came to mind was ‘faster might be slower’, that is that systems have their own paces and rhythms and pushing a system (and the people who make up that system) may have the effect of reversing or subverting the changes. The other one that sprang to mind was the idea that in a system, the whole is primary and the parts are secondary. If implementing a change, emphasis on ‘parts’ of the system, without taking account of the whole, will lead to sub-optimising the whole. Hence the necessity to have good leaders in place who don’t do the thing you mention, which is drive an ‘ego-led’ change and how important to have leaders who are ambitious for the whole of an organisation (Collins’ Level 5 leaders).

    • Thank-you for your kind words, it’ very much appreciated. I hope you keep returning to the site as I get round to adding more postings to it and that you find other posts interesting.

      Thanks again.


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