Why change fails

Published on May 30, 2022   8 min
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Hi, I'm David Buchanan, an Emeritus professor of organisational behaviour at Cranfield University School of Management in the UK. This talk is about why change fails.
Ask a group of managers to reflect on their experience and to identify what to do in order to make organisational change fail. The response usually comes in two stages. First, they laugh. Second, they then have no problems in quickly generating a list of actions to guarantee that an initiative will not succeed. No vision, highlight the negatives, don't communicate choose the most expensive way to do it and divert resources. This points to two conclusions. First, ensuring that change fails, should one wish to do that, is not difficult. There are many tools at ones disposal involving a combination of actions and inactions. Second, if we have such a good understanding of what can go wrong, then getting it right should be easy. Have a clear vision, highlight the positives, clear communication, adequate funding and so on. But getting it right turns out not to be so simple. The management of organisational change appears to be a high risk activity. The evidence suggests that around 70% of planned change efforts fail to achieve their objectives. Why? What can you do about it? Practical guidelines all offer much of the same best practice advice about communication, vision, employee involvement and tailoring the approach to the context. This is not a controversial topic. One can point to the scale, complexity and pace of organisational change today, making it harder to implement those guidelines fully. As the saying goes, there's never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it again. Some change programs start before the previous programs is even complete, so both programs are likely to suffer from poor outcomes. One of the best known explanations for