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The real reason why 75 per cent of change programmes fail

Wilhelm Crous - Friday, September 27, 2019

In a recent article published by BCG, the point is made that while it’s becoming more urgent for companies to create a competitive advantage through change and transformation, few are finding this easy to do. 

Research shows that up to 75% of change programmes fail to capture long-term value.

Why is this the case? 

Messenböck and Lutz observed that “as companies strive to increase the speed with which they generate and implement solutions, they tend to overlook a critical limit on their transformation efforts: the speed at which employees can absorb and internalise change”. 

This isn’t surprising considering the volume of change emanating from areas such as: Restructuring, digitisation, new operating systems, changes to business models, new leadership structures, retrenchments, the move towards agile… the list goes on.

In addition, while change in the external environment continues to accelerate, companies are forced to generate great ideas faster, shorten their development cycles and increase the frequency and number of parallel transformation efforts – thereby pushing hard against the limits of their employees’ capability for change. 

This becomes a bottleneck that must to be managed. 

Nevertheless, research conducted by Messenböck and Lutz in over 1,000 companies, found transformations in general pay little, or no, attention to the people journey. In other words, change initiatives aren’t implemented in an employee-centric way.

How do we improve the situation?

Step one: Understand the workplace ecosystem

The authors suggest that first a transformation office be created as part of the change journey. The transformation/change leaders must develop a granular and deep understanding of the workplace ecosystem and then ensure that transformation leaders in the organisation can remove obstacles to change, mitigate risks, and help employees navigate the demands placed upon them. 

This approach will enable employees to fully engage with the transformation and become proponents of change and not just the implementors thereof.

Step two: Identify your change ambassadors

The second precondition for effective change is to ensure it’s supported by leaders who have the knowledge, skills and willingness to guide employees through the transformation. This requires the following:
  • determine overall change-leadership strengths and limitations
  • assess individual leaders’ behaviour and the gaps between current and potential behaviours
  • identify change champions across the company
  • develop strategies for leveraging leadership strengths
  • create an action plan for addressing gaps between current and desired leadership behaviours
Organisations that can identify the need for ongoing change and consistently implement new ideas will retain their competitive edge. The challenge, however, will be to assist employees in absorbing and implementing the necessary changes and guarding against change fatigue, and resistance to change.

On 23 October 2019 we will be hosting a Change Management Seminar at the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel in Sandton. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to get insights from premier keynote speakers and industry influencers into what’s happening in the world of change management, including new and innovative techniques being used by your peers and thought-leaders.

You can download the brochure here to see the full programme or for more information contact, me: Busie Mhlanga-Mjimba on +2711 706 6009 or


Messenböck, R., & Lutz, M. (2019, July). Putting People at the Centre of Change. Series on the challenges of transformation.





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