How do change programmes fail?

Change is hard. We know just how hard it can be.

We’ve been working on and in change programmes for over 20 years. We have seen great successes (and failures), and the weird grey zone between the two.

It’s well known that many projects fail to deliver on their objectives…and if *projects* are failing frequently, what about the *programmes* that they make up?

Well, most change programmes also fail to deliver on their objectives in their original timeframe (in fact it’s about 70%).

And there’s a lot a stake, especially when it comes to the large-scale change programmes that we specialise in helping (also known as transformations).

Change programmes at scale have to deliver improvements across multiple parts of the business, under tight timeframes. Enterprise-scale programmes can be initiated with a massive objective to deliver large-scale change across multiple parts of the business. They have to rapidly form teams, structures, and processes, leveraging the existing capabilities of the business and adding new capabilities where they find gaps.

Whether you are trying to help merge two companies together, to achieve a step-change in productivity and capability, have to significantly reduce your costs, or are trying to take the enterprise to the next level with a digital transformation, the consequences of failing to deliver the full benefits are frightening.

Transformations and change programmes fail in lots of different ways, and some of the main ones are:

How do change programmes fail?

A failure to get going Programmes don’t launch, or don’t change existing ways of working
A failure to keep going Minimal change in business as usual behaviours, no improvements in change capabilities throughout the organisation, lack of ongoing commitment
A failure to deliver Lots of noise and activity but doesn’t translate into results, uncoordinated activities that don’t deliver on priorities

And whilst there’s lots of ways that programmes can fail, there’s only a few main reasons *why* they fail:

– Management don’t demonstrate change and leadership behaviours
– Employees resist the change
– Inability to manage scale of change
– Inadequate resources

So what can we do about it?

Our experience and our research shows that there are a couple of key things that some change programmes do which dramatically increase their likelihood of success.

Change the programme as the programme changes
– Issue: recognise that ramp up is different to steady state
– Solution: evolve the focus and tempo of the programme as you move through different cycles

Focus on delivering the top ten areas of value
– Issue: If top ten initiatives are off-track, unlikely to achieve objectives regardless of health of rest of programme
– Solution: Ensuring progress in top ten helps build confidence in broader programme 

Do the doing, not the reporting
– Issue: PMO can’t provide adequate assistance because they are drowning in updating and reporting on what happened in the past
– Solution: create a light-touch approach that focuses on key information and allows PMO to directly support change

Provide help to struggling areas early
– Issue: Initiatives that struggle to gain traction and deliver results often struggle from the very beginning, but could be put back on track if early intervention was applied.
– Solution: Use a structured approach of hygiene factors assessment and reviews to identify struggling initiatives early.

Cascade reviews at the right level
– Issue: Change programmes get bogged down in multiple levels of meetings and reviews, or alternately lack of oversight allows surprises to happen.
– Solution: Use cascading Bottom-up and top-down reviews to apply the right amount of scrutiny across the programme.

Help everyone understand how they fit in

– Issue: Staff can often have change fatigue and struggle to understand how what they are be asked to do contributes
– Solution: Effective communication to staff and celebrating wins can help keep everyone focused how they are helping deliver the end goal.

We have worked hard to build our learnings into MakeItHappen, our programme management solution.

Learn more about how MakeItHappen can support successful change programmes for your company.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

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