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You would think with the number of times organisations embark on change programs that they would eventually get it right. But many things get in the way, not the least of which is thinking that change is common sense and everyone has the answer. And for those of us who lead change we know that this is not the case, change is difficult, it is different for every organisational culture and needs to be approached objectively.

Here are five reasons change programs fail and what you can do about it.

1. Embarking on change collaboratively. Now I know in many instances, particularly downsizing there will be those staff members who want no part in it and will do all they can to ensure it doesn’t happen. But you cannot decide that because of a few the organisation will impose change on all employees. Change efforts fail because they are initiated and managed somewhere in head office and done in isolation. The most effective change initiatives look around the maze of naysayers and disenfranchised employees and find ways to work with them so that they own the change. This is the only way a change program will be successful.

2. Process changes behaviour and it is not enough to say to leaders in the organisation you must engage employees in this change program. As naïve as it is, I see it happen all too often. To engage leaders to lead the change you need to give them something specific to do and be accountable for. Change is difficult regardless of whether you are the CEO of an organisation or a frontline employee. Given that the best change programs are leadership driven you need to ensure that there are specific processes and accountabilities in place to ensure that engagement happens. Alongside leadership engagement are staff contributions to support change initiatives – this is the tipping point that changes the degree which transformation occurs in organisations.

3. Leadership capability is essential because as I mentioned the best change programs are leadership driven regardless of whether it is the CEO or frontline supervisor. Employees will always look to their manager and the capability of the leadership team to drive the changes. So a key component of any change program is to ensure that leaders know how to lead transformation initiatives with their teams and become supportive of innovative ideas.

4. Many times the key messages communicated to staff during transformation programs are the need to change the way we do things. Sometimes unintentionally the message is heard that they way we do things is wrong and we need to improve. Successful change programs focus on what is good about what we do and how can build on this. By focussing on positive messages and finding creative ways to communicate them and not relying on online tools, you have a much greater change of encouraging employees to participate and support change initiatives.

5. Change is never owned by the change team. The role of the change team is to provide the tools and techniques to enable transformation to occur within the organisation, change has to be owned by the leaders and employees within the organisation. If you stop and assess your current change programs, ask the question, ” When the change team ceases to exist will we have transferred capability and appetite to drive change within the organisation?”. If the answer is no, then your change program will surely fail as it will only be transactional and not embedded into the culture of the organisation.

Whether you are restructuring, downsizing, merging with another organisation, or implementing new IT systems and processes, avoiding the above five reasons why change programs fail is key in any organisational change context to ensure successful transformation.

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