When we talk about change here at Insights – and we do, a lot – we often quote the statistic which says that around 70% of change initiatives fail. It’s actually a pretty startling number, but it has somehow ceased to shock. It’s accepted, even perhaps expected, that instituting organizational change is akin to pushing a rock up a hill: difficult, time-consuming, exhausting and ultimately pointless.
So let’s bring that stat into focus by thinking of it in a new way – if your job is to push through organizational change, then around 3.5 days of your working week are just an exercise in futility.
Now doesn’t that sound like something your organization needs to address – and now?
Sure, it’s normal for directional change decisions to come from the top. Those right at the head of the organization are the ones who have the strategic vision, access to all of the pertinent information, and the ultimate responsibility for the organizational performance, so it makes sense for many companies that directional decisions are top-down.
This can only work however, if business leaders understand that the level of agility and resilience the organization displays in the face of change will come from the bottom up. And that’s because change doesn’t happen to organizations – change happens to the people who make up the organization.
“If the people do not change, there is no organizational change.” (Schneider et al (1996))
In a stable environment, people generally know what they’re getting when they show up to work each day. That old familiar desk, the same ‘what did you do last night?’ chat with their colleagues (and for that matter the same colleagues). They’re faced with work they know how to do, goals they’ve long been on board with, and a leader who’s been around long enough to really get how they tick.
But in a constantly-evolving environment, all that comforting familiarity is lost. If the organizational goals shift, so do the goals of the people who make up that organization. So one Monday morning you hit your desk, and your workload could be different, you could be matrixed into new teams, given new priorities, or been assigned to a new project. Your mug, the chair you’ve adjusted to just how you like it, your desk, the view from your window – in a constantly shifting environment, all of these things could be up for grabs.
People who have been given the time and space to develop themselves, to understand their own strengths, what’s at the root of their personal workplace struggles, how they can be most effective, what motivates them, and what kind of leader they will flourish under, are much more equipped to re-focus their priorities and put their skills to the test in new ways, than those who have been slotted into a role and given no personal development since the day they got the job.
And that’s borne out by facts; numerous studies show that increased self-awareness at work can lead to better team building, improved communication, more effective leaders, and better staffing decisions. On the other hand, low levels of self-awareness can be linked to an increase in workplace conflict, less authenticity in relationships and a defensive attitude about personal shortcomings.
That’s why, no matter how “right-on” the directional decisions taken at the top are, if the people who make up the organization aren’t prepped for it, the change will simply fail to embed, and will become part of that sad 70% statistic. This should also serve as a warning; if you know that change is coming next week, next month, or next year - start investing in your people today. It could just give you the competitive advantage you need.