Why change management needs to change

Why change management needs to change
change management ahead key

Leaders are confronted with an increasing rate of change and complexity and need to find ways to deal with it.

As a recognized discipline, change management has been in existence for over half a century. Yet despite the huge investment that companies have made in tools, training and thousands of books, most studies still show a 60-70% failure rate for organisational change projects – a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970’s to the present.

Don’t view change as a discrete event to be managed

Given this evidence, is it possible that everything we know about change management is wrong and that we need to go back to the drawing board? While it might be plausible to conclude that we should rethink the basics, let me suggest an alternative explanation: don’t view change as a discrete event to be managed, but as a constant opportunity to evolve the business.

Change readiness is the new change management: the ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimize risk, and sustain performance:

  • Change awareness is a company’s ability to redefine itself as necessary
  • Change agility represents your company’s ability to engage people in pending changes
  • Change reaction is the ability to appropriately analyze problems, assess risks, and manage the reactions of employees
  • Change mechanisms should encourage clear goal alignment across functions, the ability to integrate a change into existing systems, accountability for results, and reward systems that reinforce desired change behaviors.

Top 40 organizational change questionsTop 40+ questions to ask first before embarking on any change

Why change management needs to change

Leading your company through change has become different from how it was ten to twenty years ago. Mobilizing employees, engaging them successfully, motivating them, informing them, using the talent and potential of people and teams, it all is crucial.

Everyone agrees that change management is important. Making it happen effectively, however, needs to be a core competence of managers and not something that they can pass off to others.

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Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement, development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland


  1. Torben,

    As usual a nicely written and informative post.

    I agree with what you say.

    So change management as a discipline has been in existence for half a century yet such initiatives still face a high failure rate (60-70% failure rate for organisational change projects).

    What are we doing wrong? Could it be simply the lack of desire of the majority (or influential minority) in an organisation to change. Often they are the sceptical ones, the ones who like to point fingers when the change fails.

    I agree that “don’t view change as a discrete event to be managed, but as a constant opportunity to evolve the business”, but the exponential growth in change means we have to go radically further.

    “Mobilizing employees, engaging them successfully, motivating them, informing them, using the talent and potential of people and teams, it all is crucial.” All true. But the effort to get to this position is costly. Those organisations where they have to invest, time, energy, resources, money to get their people to adopt the change are at a serious disadvantage to those organisations where people are already on-board, embracing change as a daily opportunity to improve (not only themselves but their teams, departments and organisations).

    The pace of change for organisations is increasing. It has been this way for the last two decades and is increasing year on year. Organisations that are reluctant or slow to change fail. Nimble competitors simply take control of the market place and squeeze incumbents.

    The agility of these nimble firms is unprecedented compared to what existed two decades ago. Such firms typically employ like-minded people who collaborate effectively and embrace the organisations change culture. When such an organisation needs to adapt and change, the people are willing and able to flex. Change then happens rapidly.

    Look at video rental firm Blockbuster. A decade ago, Blockbuster was thriving, the dominant source for movie rentals, with market capitalization of $6B and a powerful brand name and superior market share. During this decade numerous forms of competitors entered the market all vying for a slice of the entertainment distributor pie. Blockbuster focused on what it did best, a provider of physical movie and game rentals…until it was too late. Boom and bust in a touch over 20 years!

    Customers have limited or no brand loyalty. They happily moved to Blockbuster’s competitors, those that saved them time, money and provided greater flexibility and convenience. Customers recognised the benefits and embraced these changes. Blockbuster didn’t for some time, then tried to reposition itself but alas it was too little too late. Now we have countless empty Blockbuster stores across the globe.

    Change management is crucial. Making it happen effectively, however, needs to be a core competency of leaders, managers and employees alike. A collaborative approach to change across the organisation means that change happens rapidly and has a higher chance of success.

    This begs the question, Is there a place in an organisation for those unwilling to change? I think not.


  2. Richard Anderson 2 years ago

    Is it the mechanisms of change management which are due for change to stay relevant in the current world as we know it, or is it the people in change management? Or as is so often the case when given an either:or question, the answer is both.
    My own experience comes from a long spell in private sector Finance industries and a shorter spell of a few years in the public sector, and it is that which has shown the greater need for change. Whereas the private sector – and it was in particularly professional yet go-ahead organisations – was more open and responsive to need to adapt the private sector had grown to a position of misunderstanding their role. Change management personnel believed their role was to provide high quality work to their predetermined standards. Incorrect – their role was to get their employer to the other end of a project, and their work (to the appropriate level of standards and quality) was the means of getting there.
    This attitudinal difference came out in many elements of their employer’s essential change programme, from project scheduling to resource availability. As an example there is always a debate around project delivery aspirational dates and how long it takes to do given tasks in reality. With a ‘get to the other end of the project’ mentality the aspirational date drives the route taken and the quality delivered, with a ‘standard practise’ based mentality the delivery date is driven by the route taken and the quality delivered. The latter is an inappropriate way forward since projects deliver benefit, or they wouldn’t be done, so everything done in the course of a project delays realisation of that benefit, and as a result a specific cost (the delayed benefit x the time taken) can be attributed to every step. It focuses the mind. (This area is a hobby-horse of mine which I won’t get onto now, but in summary it is possible I believe to use standards in a way which actually allows corner-cutting for speed of delivery to be managed professionally and more safely).
    So – does change management need to change? – of course, all things need constantly to change since the world they operate in is always changing. But we need to ask ourselves if we mean just the operation of change management, or just the attitudes of people in change management, or both.

  3. Vanessa Pye 2 years ago

    Is change as a separate discipline existing within an organization as a practice well past it’s use by date. I think so. As long as the business views change as a separate activity done ‘over there’ by a bunch of change practitioners on programmes of work then it’s change been done to them. I agree with Neil and Richards points around growing cultures of agility where change is a core competency and would even go far as to say – close your change practices down. Invest in growing responsive accountable cultures, leaders who lead and enable their people to embrace change and opportunity. Sure there will be programmes of work that require distinct change activities to occur within the lifecycle – who does these activities meaningfully will come from specialist change deployment folk in the business supported by business sponsors at all levels.

    Is change as we know it and by whom dead?

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