The Reasons Why Many Change Programmes Fail

Part 1

Lack of Understanding of Change Philosophy

In this series I will be sharing my experience of leading and facilitating large Transformational Change Programmes and Business Improvement initiatives to ensure you have the opportunity to maximise your programmes and ensure they don’t fail.

I have many years’ experience of supporting large companies implement improvements and I’m well placed to understand the pitfalls and traps that so many companies fall into. In this series I will be sharing twelve key watch outs you should consider.

Of course, programmes don’t totally collapse and fail from the onset, in the majority of cases, programmes rarely reach their full potential and often aren’t sustained in the right manner and then fade away only to be replaced with another programme and so on, until the business is driven by fad after fad with little real improvement or return on investment.

So, what do I mean by lack of understanding of change?

In a nutshell, Transformational Change has science behind it and is a subject of study in its own right. From the 1960s when the first commercial and academic approach to making organisations perform better was widely acknowledged we have had many iterations of methodologies associated with business improvement such as, World Class Manufacturing, TPM, TQM, Lean, 6 sigma and Systems Thinking and so on. I think these peaked during the 1980s and 90s. However, many of the principles behind the early successes have been regurgitated into different looking programmes, but the fundamentals remain the same.

Some years ago I was fortunate enough to work with the Japanese Institute of Plant Maintenance (JIPM) and I was coached by one of their top consultants. My learning was massive and opened my mind to a totally new world of thinking. Alas, when I look around today and assess an organisation’s ability to implement improvement programmes, I’m saddened that much of the original learning I experienced as totally disappeared and programmes often have become very “hard wired” projects and not organic journeys of transformation.

In part, I feel the original intent behind these concepts has been lost because in the West we have translated the concepts without thinking holistically. We have imposed our “already thinking” and dismissed the element of engagement and creative thought. We are stuck with “binary” and “absolute” thinking, often driven by short term aims created by annual accounts and satisfying shareholder annual dividends.

So, we need to create “new thinking” when launching a programme. Below are just three examples of the fundamental shift in thinking needed.

  1. The diagram below is a sketch to illustrate that the thinking that already exists in a business isn’t enough to capture the true dynamics of change. New thinking is a combination of project type discipline coupled with people focus and much rarer biological thinking, which aims to aid the understanding of the dynamics of live organs (a business or ORGANisation)

2. Work on driving change by changing the system, not the behaviour of people. The required change in behaviour will come when people are motivated to work with different/improved systems. Systems are on a scale of Hard systems (methods) and Soft systems (habits and traditions)

3. The steering and governance of a programme must embrace both the logical project based thinking (Hard Thinking) and the more organic thinking (Soft Thinking) Therefore, it’s key to have a diverse steering team with people driving change and others more sensitive to people dynamics. The diagram below shows that steering (and programme design) requires a combination of tools and techniques AND a shift in employee capability. Too often a large programme in an organisation appears to be one or the other and not a seamless combination of both.

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Tel: 01905 425209


Martin Gummery, Managing Director, NewLeaf International Ltd