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Think It's Time Leaders Learnt from Change Failure's Disgusting Stats?

June 15, 2021

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How much more data do we need to act effectively upon the truth that most ‘change’ initiatives fail?

I believe the biggest failure is that we don’t learn from the 75% failure rate. Nor do we learn from the 25% that do succeed.

Surely as we learn other lessons from the COVID pandemic we can see the importance of learning from such a legacy?

Also, I’d like to distinguish between commercial and government ‘change’ initiatives. 

I’ve not found sufficient reliable data to distinguish success/failure rates in government departmental change.  

I suspect that the data collection is avoided for fear of quantifying the wastage.

However, I can say about 50% of my 25 years as a leadership coach has been helping leaders cope with the fallout of dysfunctional change initiatives in government departments.

The other 50% of my work has been helping commercial leaders plan and execute effective improvement (the best intent of change) by following a simple yet profound people centred process and not rushing it.  

With my commercial clients it has been about moving through the phases of start, scale, sail and sale.

We don’t talk about ‘change’.

Instead, we identify the improvement desired, make sure it’s understood and is compelling for all.

We name it as a positive “Taking Us to the Next Level”-type project and help everyone prepare for it by giving them the personal tools of self and situational awareness, positivity, agility/adaptability and resilience.

We ensure the entire leadership cohort, then the entire enterprise becomes aligned to the project whilst maintaining the flow of daily work.

We implement and execute with relentless consistency and patience using a coaching approach.

We understand successful improvement requires us to alter the layout and strength of existing neural and process pathways and to create new neural and process pathways.   That requires consistent correct practice.

This is not understood nor practiced in those failed initiatives, whether in commerce or government departments.

I’ve not yet met a government department that considers their initiatives wholly successful.

Unfortunately, since the primary credential of the political class is votes, when they dictate ‘change’ in government departments it’s executed like the process of a nuclear reaction – high speed banging together of destabilised resources.

That’s exacerbated by the high tolerance for mediocre, even bad, behaviour and performance, where too many leadership and HR elements blatantly support status quo retention over timely intelligent remediation.

It’s heartbreaking to see dedicated professionals burn out and give up in despair, simply because their political masters and senior leaders don’t know or understand, perhaps don’t care about, the proven way to conduct effective improvement.

Ultimately, wherever the failures occur, it’s a failure of the leaders at the top.

So, learning from the high ‘change’ failure rate means learning from high leadership failure. 

75% is too high and has been for too long.

I therefore implore political leaders and senior leaders everywhere to look long and hard in the mirror, adopt a life-long learning attitude right now and act on it.

What do you think?

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