Tim Hebert
August 17, 2016

ARTICLE: Why Does Change Fail the Majority of the Time?

As CEO and President of Atrion, a leading IT services firm, Tim Hebert is committed to expounding on the importance of fusing business and technology and propelling Atrion to become a top 1 percent organization. He derives fuel and nourishment in finding ways to expand Atrion’s array of technology services; forging strategic partnerships; creating lasting impact by enabling others to reach their leadership potential, and conceptualizing workforce development models and frameworks. You can follow Tim on Linkedin here, or follow him on Twitter @THebert.

Screenshot_2016-08-17_20.10.43.pngWe all know that spearheading, affecting and maintaining change is HARD. In fact, Towers Watson, a global professional services company, contends that only 25 percent of organizations are able to sustain gains from change management initiatives over the long term. Shocking right?!

John Wooden, the great American basketball coach, once said, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” In other words, change is necessary. Last month I talked about the fact that whether it’s in our personal or professional lives, we face two types of change:

  • That which we react to
  • That which we enact ourselves

Whether we react or enact, there is a high probability that our change initiatives will fail. They don’t fail because of the lack of plans, ideas or strategies. Rather, they fail because they can’t execute properly. So what are the top reasons organizational change initiatives fail? Let’s take a look…

  1. We Fail to See What Really Needs Changing

Many times, we as leaders fail to really understand what needs changing and therefore we change what doesn’t need to be fixed or the wrong behaviors. Consider this, an experiment conducted by the Cornell University gave movie goers stale, poor-tasting popcorn in large and small containers. At the end of the movie, the researchers measured the movie goers consumption. They found the larger the bucket, the more they ate.

Related: Read Atrion White Paper, Surviving the IT Talent Deficit: How to Come Out on Top, here

So, should we try to change the movie goers eating habits or simply reduce the size of the containers? Do you truly understand what needs to be changed?

  1. We Lack The Correct Urgency

 All too often, we watch our favorite sports team play with a lack of urgency for most of the game. Then, out of nowhere, the team comes together with an intensity to win. Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, has led his team to 37 fourth-quarter career comebacks.

During Super Bowl XXXVIII, the Carolina Panthers scored a game-tying touchdown with 1:13 left to play. With the game tied at 29, Brady led the Patriots down the field, completing four of five passes for 47 yards to put the team in position to kick the game winning field goal. Brady and the Patriots won their second Super Bowl title in three seasons.

To lead change, our job is to create that “two-minute drill” urgency every day—ensuring that change happens now and not after it’s too late. 

  1. We Fail to Unite People Around The Need For Change

Sure it’s great if the CEO—or other members of the C-suite—believe in the need to spearhead change. But do your middle managers or frontline supervisors? How about your rank-and-file employees?

Research by the Tower Watson shows, that 68 percent of senior managers feel they’re “getting the message” about the reasons for major organizational changes, but that figure drops to 53 percent for middle managers and 40 percent for front-line supervisors. Imagine what the average employee gets from the message.

As leaders of change, we must be the coxswain of change. We must steer our organizational change; provide motivation and encouragement; communicate progress; and ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction.

  1. Our Leadership Team Is Not Capable of Leading Change

A number of leaders don’t know how to lead change. Research has shown that even when leaders receive training on leading change, only a dismal 22 percent believe the training effectively prepares them to lead change.

Effective leaders empower their teams to understand the part they can play in changing process. They demonstrate that each person can be a powerful change agent. Consider Jim Johnson, the basketball coach for Greece Athena High School.

Coach Johnson put Jason McElwain, the equipment manager who is autistic, into the last game of the season with four minutes and 19 seconds left. After missing two shots, he hit six consecutive three-point shots and a two-pointer, scoring 20 points in all. The coach gave Jason the opportunity to play. Many leaders spend too much time overthinking and overanalyzing—simply spinning their wheels contemplating change. Instead, we need to direct our energies toward the opportunities rather than problems.


  1. The Change Takes Too Long

I had the opportunity to speak to a class of inner-city high school students the other week. Each student is at risk of dropping out. These kids have reached the highest level of education in their families. They don’t have a support system to keep them in school; in fact they have many forces trying extricate them from their studies.

My challenge became what to say to them to keep them in school and inspire them to make change for tomorrow. It’s about showing them how their decisions will impact their lives today—not five or 10 years down the road.

As leaders, we need answer the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time by recording the small victories along the way and routinely communicate about our progress. If our teams don’t see progress, they get disillusioned, overwhelmed and incapable of getting their heads around what needs to happen to successfully move change along.

Download Atrion White Paper, Surviving the IT Talent Deficit: How to Come Out on Top

This piece originally appeared on the Atrion Corporate Blog.

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