Date Published:

Category: Culture Change



cda’s Top Ten reasons why change fails

At cda we have been designing and supporting successful business change programmes for twenty five years, so maybe now is a good time to reflect on why it can sometimes all go so wrong! Read on for our ‘Top Ten’ reasons why change fails. See how many you recognise…


#1 – Poor leadership

Leadership is the single biggest predictor of the success of a change programme. If the CEO and top team don’t fully understand what’s involved and get behind it, the change is doomed from the start. As a first step, it’s important to invest the time to establish understanding and support amongst the leaders of the business. It may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how often this isn’t done.


#2 – No clear picture of the future

Leaders must be able to paint a vision of the future that’s engaging and which allows everyone to understand why the change is necessary and what’s in it for them. This is about engaging both hearts and minds. So it’s not just about explaining the hard facts of the situation but also building an emotional commitment. Many leaders will need support to do this.    


#3 – Expecting too much too soon

Change is always ‘two steps forward, one step back’. It takes time to deliver the understanding, engagement, reskilling and new ways of working required to embed sustainable change. It’s important to establish sensible expectations and keep your focus on the long game, whilst also delivering some quick wins to keep the critics at bay.


#4 – Just talking about it

Just running a glossy communications roadshow or a training programme isn’t enough. It’s too easy to pay lip service to a new idea and memories soon fade. Successful change requires implementing and enforcing changes to structures, processes and systems to provide a single, unavoidable message about what’s important and the way that everyone is expected to work.


#5 – Ignoring the hard stuff

When planning change it’s tempting to focus on the ‘low hanging fruit’ but usually this will only get you so far. Almost every business faces big challenges when attempting significant change. These could include long-standing commercial arrangements, team structures or reward patterns. Tackling these challenges can be painful but without this the change will not achieve its full potential.


#6 – The latest fad

Change takes time and during this time, new business ideas and priorities will emerge. Some of these will be important and will need to be integrated into the Vision; others will represent a threat which could undermine the success of the change. The challenge is to know the difference between the two!


#7 – Letting people leave it to the other guy

These days change is constant and one response from some individuals is to ignore it. This can be a very successful way to avoid confronting new challenges. However, allowing people (particularly senior people) to opt out sends a message that the change is optional and is a sure recipe for failure.


#8 – Incentivising the wrong things

Whether the incentive on offer is money, recognition or advancement, it’s important to ensure that it is fully aligned with the Vision. A pay plan or promotion decision which rewards behaviour which doesn’t fit with the Vision is a good way to undermine the change, by sending a powerful message that it’s still OK to work in the old way.   


#9 – Poor metrics

Most change is expensive and it usually isn’t too long before people start asking what it has delivered for the bottom line. It’s important to establish clear and realistic targets and reporting at the outset, to demonstrate the business impact of the investment. (But also see point 3 above!)  


#10 – Not engaging the troops

If leadership is the single biggest predictor of change success, then the time and effort spent engaging the wider team comes a close second. And it will usually require double or triple the time and effort that you expect at the outset!