Why Change Projects Fail

One of the world's foremost experts on business leadership, John P. Kotter from the Harvard Business School, identified the eight most common reasons business transformation efforts fail. He identifies them as:

1. Allowing too much complacency.
A common error is not creating a sense of urgency early on in the project. Projects with a high level of complacency are almost certainly doomed to fail

2. Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
We all know how important it is for a project to be led by someone with energy and commitment. This is seldom enough to see a major change effort through. What is needed is a coalition of corporate leaders capable of overcoming all inertia and opposition that will almost certainly arrive.3. Underestimating the power of vision
Vision plays an important role in change efforts by helping to direct, align and inspire actions on the part of large numbers of people.

4. Undercommunicating the vision by a power of 10 (or 100, or 1,000)
People will not commit to a change effort unless they believe that real benefits will result from the change, and that the required change is achievable. Without effective communication, how will they ever have sufficient information on which to reach this conclusion?

5. Permitting Obstacles to block the new vision


Most change efforts will at some time come upon obstacles (whether perceived or actual). If they are not anticipated or quickly removed, they can easily provide a reason for staff to slip back into their old comfort zones.

6. Failing to create short term wins
Many transformations take years to achieve and people will become dispirited if they do not see some concrete signs of progress.

7. Declaring Victory too soon
Major changes take time to 'bed down'. Declaring victory after 'implementation' will lose credibility if teething problems occur with the new situation - which is almost inevitable.

8 Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the corporate culture
Once the changes are in, there is a temptation to dust of your hands and walk away. However, it is easy for old habits, and old processes, to return and undo all the good work. It is necessary to keep a watchful eye to ensure the processes become second nature.

Adapted with permission from Leading Change by John P. Kotter, Harvard School Press 1996 ISBN # 0-87584-747-1

Knowing why these organizational transformation projects fail is just the start. What do we do about it?  See the next item, the eight stage change process.