Why Transformation Efforts Fail?

Thanks to a push email from Harvard Business Review, and discussions around ongoing transformation efforts, I read again an old article from John Kotter: Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.

The first lesson is that change is not an event, it’s a process. The second lesson is that change takes time, and not following the change process could create an illusion of speed, but will result in failure.

If we study successful or unsuccessful changes attempt using the 8 steps proposed by Kotter, we could learn a lot on what we could improve in the future.

One aspect that is not directly covered in the 8 steps is what is called “Your organization”.

I learned from successful (and unsuccessful) changes, that defining “The Organization” is crucial. It will define who is part of the core group, and more importantly, who is part of the core group from the start.

Let’s say that in your organization, you have several teams that need to work together to deliver a product or a service, and you observe that they are struggling to deliver, they could even engage in politics and blame game.

If you engage with team A and team B. That could be, for example, because they are at the beginning of the production process, or for other reason, as you will always find great justification for what you did and cannot undo. I am smiling there, at myself, please don’t be offended.

You could work with those teams on step 1, and establish a sense of urgency. You could work on step 2, and form a group that will lead the change.

Now that you learned more on the production process, you can clearly see that team C, plays a crucial role, and needs to be involved.

As you are yourself driven by the sense of urgency, you could decide to involve team C for step 3. You could rationalize this shortcut as much as you can, but it will cause you a lot of troubles.

The best option is to go back to step 1, and work with team A, B, and C on establishing a sense of urgency, and continue the process from there. Until that restart, Team C will not see the same crises or potential crises, they will not see the same causes, and they will not want their future to be dictated by other teams.


The header picture is from Ryan McGuire.