5 Reasons Why Organizational Change Fails

Our brains are hardwired to resist change. When change (especially organizational change) is mentioned or introduced, it often triggers a fear response, which is why most of us are so darn resistant to our familiar world deviating from what we know, even by the smallest degree.

Neuroscience Impacts Organizational Change Efforts

Jacob Shriar explains: “As soon as something new happens, our brains automatically start trying to compare it with previous things we already know and are familiar with. This process of comparing the two actually uses up a lot of energy in the brain.”

This mental fatigue can then increase our fear. No wonder we groan and internally panic and want to ignore organizational change.

You can see why this intrinsic reaction and automatic and unconscious resistance presents challenges to organizational change. Imagine trying to corral a large number of people, all of whom have a hard-wired resistance to change, as well as different aspirations, motivation, levels of expertise and experience, learning styles, and personalities. No wonder building commitment to change is so challenging. But the challenges don’t stop there.

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Common Reasons Organizational Change Fails

1. Poor Planning Sets Up Organizational Change for Failure

Often, leaders are so focused on getting their “content” solution designed that they dive right into the design phase of organizational change without adequately doing the upfront planning work required. This sets the effort up for failure right from the start. Instead, identify all the conditions and activities that must occur early to set the project up for success, like: 1) change roles, governance and decision-making, 2) stakeholder engagement strategy and communications, 3) timeline, resources and capacity, and 4) key initiatives and how to integrate them for maximum speed and efficiency. Without a well-designed change process plan, a likely outcome will be a false start, resistance, and/or eventual failure.

2. Inadequate Support from Leadership

Organizational change does not succeed without leadership support. And lip service is not enough. Leaders must champion and model the change for the rest of the organization, in both what they say and do. They must be active, consistently supporting the change teams as they design and implement changes. They must be out communicating the benefits of the change to stakeholders and listening to and responding to their concerns. If your leaders are not prepared to stay actively involved, perhaps it isn’t the right time for them to launch a major change effort. According to SHRM, change management experts suggest unsuccessful change initiatives often have executives who describe the desired outcome of the change project but do not instruct managers on how to implement it*.

3. Lack of Resources

Lack of resources is one of the most common reasons why organizational change fails in most organizations. Adoption and sustainment of change are long term investments. They don’t occur just because an awesome solution was designed. It has to get implemented, and then tested, refined, and reinforced. This generally is a longer, and costlier endeavor than most change leaders realize. If you don’t plan and resource the latter phases of change, you’ll not realize the full benefits you set out to achieve.

4. Priority Focus on Systems vs. People

Leaders often focus more on the system changes than the people that have to make and live with them. Don’t forget that while you need to have systems in place, it’s the people who matter most. “Sustained change is always driven by people,” says Lee Colan in his article “10 Reasons Change Efforts Fail.” “Even implementing new software successfully is more about the people who will use is, install it, train it, and support it than it is about the system itself.”

Be sure that your leaders equally prioritize and attend to the system changes AND the people.

5. Inadequate Change Leadership Skills

One could easily argue that this is the #1 cause of failed organizational change. Why? Because every issue or problem within a given change initiative either gets prevented, solved, or caused by the skill of the change leaders in charge. And the truth is, we don’t adequately train our leaders to become competent change leaders. Leadership development is a part of virtually all large organizations, but change leadership development is sorely missing. The net is that leaders tend to run change initiatives like they run their organizations, and the two are vastly different. Consider, where can your leaders go to get the development they need to become stellar change leaders?



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About the author

Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson

Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson is an international speaker, bestselling author, and strategic advisor to the C-Suite and change consultants world-wide. For forty years, Dr. Ackerman Anderson has been guiding visionary leaders of America’s Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and global non-profit organizations to transform themselves and their organizations to Achieve Breakthrough in business results, culture, leadership, and executive team performance. Linda is the co-founder of Being First, one of America’s most innovative transformational consulting firms, and, with her partner, Dr. Dean Anderson, a co-creator of Conscious Change Leadership, an advanced Body of Work that integrates personal and organizational transformation. Linda received an honorary doctoral degree from Brandman University, part of the Chapman University system, for this pioneering work. Linda co-authored two cutting edge books that have become classics in the field of organizational transformation: Beyond Change Management: How to Achieve Breakthrough Results through Conscious Change Leadership, and The Change Leader’s Roadmap: How to Navigate Your Organization’s Transformation. She and her co-author, Dr. Dean Anderson, have published over 50 articles on human performance and organizational change, and are the co-developers of The Change Leader’s Roadmap Methodology.