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How to understand the underlying causes: why most transformations fail

he role of employee engagement, mindsets, and cultural bearers in change initiatives.

Many transformations fail, with studies indicating that up to 78% of change initiatives don’t succeed. The disheartening figures, especially considering the effort and ambitions invested, prompt a crucial question: why do so many transformations fail? Is it the approach, the insights, or the implementation phase? Or is it simply human resistance to change?


Optimization

Often, optimization-focused changes, ones that enhance an existing system, witness higher success rates. These may involve alterations in organizational structure, processes, technology, or data. As these changes don’t veer too far from the ‘known’, resistance is generally minimal. The familiar system remains, and people quickly adapt, even if the new methods aren’t initially welcomed with open arms.

Yet, if such optimizations are delayed, financial, technical, or organizational “debt” accumulates. This debt makes future transformations harder, necessitating its address before any change can be implemented. This is why approaches like Lean and Agile have soared in popularity. They offer continuous improvement in short, efficient bursts.


Transformation

Transformation, in its essence, implies a fundamental change to the system. It’s not just about introducing new tools; it’s about changing mindsets and behaviors. Such shifts deeply impact people, thereby intensifying resistive forces. If these forces aren’t managed, they become the bottleneck, halting transformation in its tracks.


Employee engagement

A 2021 meta-data analysis from the Harvard Business Review highlighted a key element: successful transformations involve their employees profoundly. Organizations that truly “valued” their people, emphasizing equality, inclusivity, and recognizing diversity, achieved successful transformations. Thus, embracing diverse ways of thinking becomes crucial.


Culture and it’s barriers

Cultural bearers play a pivotal role in this context. They are individuals or teams capable of embracing differences, showing unparalleled curiosity and focus, and exerting a significant influence on the organization. They can negotiate, handle stress, and, most importantly, set the right example. Interestingly, you usually need only a small percentage of such employees (around 3%) to set the transformation in motion. Their attitude and behavior can drive change without the majority even realizing the system is shifting. There’s no need for grand announcements; showing by doing can lead to higher success rates.


Incremental change

Real transformation isn’t about setting milestones or monitoring every step. Such an approach overlooks the intricate complexities of organizations and their underlying systems. Instead, design a process, rally your team of cultural bearers, and together, explore insights leading to actionable options. This way, you incrementally and effectively transform the system. And as previously mentioned, by doing so, you truly profit from positive change.


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