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Why change initiatives fail (and what to do about it)

April 24, 2015

All of us have been involved with large-scale change initiatives where the ROI isn’t as expected. The reasons those change initiatives fail can be summed up in three simple statements:

  • Lack of proper planning
  • Ineffective program management or execution
  • Lack of employee understanding and buy-in

I believe that the last one—lack of employee understanding and buy-in—is the most important to focus on. The reality is you can have the best change management plan and methodology, but if you don’t spend the time on the people side of change you definitely won’t realize the ROI of your change initiative.

William Bridges gave a name to what leaders need to do in addressing the people side of change. He referred to it as transition management. He writes in his book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change that it isn’t change that people resist, it is the transition as the organization lets go of the old and embraces the new. And to understand the importance of transition management, we first need to clarify some key concepts, most notably, the difference between change and transition.

Most organizations use the words change and transition to mean the same thing. However, they actually represent two very different concepts. Change is an event; it is situational. It is the move to the new site, the retirement of the founder, the reorganization of the roles on the team, the acquisition of a new business line. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological; it is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.

Most organizations have a change management plan but they rarely have a transition management plan. Transition management isn’t something you do when you “get around to it.” Getting people through the transition is essential if the change is actually to work as planned. Unless individuals understand and buy in to the change, they won’t be willing to learn the new behaviors, skills and mindsets to make the change successful.

Change can be hard. But understanding how people make “transitions” can help and we want to hear from you. Have you been through an organizational change recently. What worked? What didn’t? Please share your insights in the comments box below

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Blog|Change & Transition

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