Ten Common Causes Of Failed Change Efforts: Raymond Toga

Reflections by Raymond Toga (DaVinci’s Programme Coordinator and Doctoral Candidate) on the reasons why change efforts fail


All organisations, no matter how well established or stable they may be, are subject to change. According to W. Edwards Deming, one must change in order not to be changed by the world around him. Organisational leaders must be aware of the complex environment in which their organisations operate and should pay close attention to developments both within their organisation and in the broader context. Organisational leaders must also be knowledgeable about how to implement the changes their employees need in order for the business to survive. Unfortunately, making effective organisational changes is difficult (Meaney & Pung, 2008). 

Organisational change can be the result of an organisation’s growth, decline, or transformation (Aishu 2020). While one might assume that organisations are enduring structures in a changing society, the truth is that organisations themselves constantly undergo change and this takes many different forms. Organisational change takes place in a complex context that can make it confusing to navigate (Watson & Spencer, 2016). It is far more complex than typical human behaviour, so any change effort will likely fail if not carefully managed. 

In a recent McKinsey global survey, leaders rated only one-third of organisational change initiatives as successful (Meaney & Pung, 2008). The fact that the 3,199 business leaders who responded to the McKinsey survey spent an average of six months planning their company’s restructuring is not a positive sign. 

| The author will explore the causes of failed change efforts and offer reasons why these projects fail.

There is not a convincing argument for change. 

If people do not understand why a change is necessary, they often feel anxious, skeptical and resistant. Most major changes are financially justified, but their benefits must be clearly communicated to all relevant stakeholders. If you don’t take the time to explain the rationale for change and its effects on people, they will never understand why it is needed. Even with a compelling intellectual case for change, people inevitably want to know what it means for them and how it will affect them. 

Lack of senior team alignment 

Transforming an organisation into a new state entails different leadership requirements than leading a business or function in its steady-state environment. Griffith (2020) defines transformation as a comprehensive overhaul of the way in which work is done. Making progress on various projects or work streams that must be handled in the conventional sense while being brought together in ways that necessitate close collaboration and challenging trade-offs is part of leading such endeavours. Only the senior leadership team can only do this job. 

Neglect of the leadership’s duty to guide the process 

Alignment among the senior team is required but insufficient. The team must remain committed to the transformation process (Hughes 2010). It is simple for leaders to neglect their duty to actively direct, lead, and oversee the transition, given the considerable competitive and operational challenges that senior teams experience. According to Hammer and Champy (2003), this is frequently reinforced by the organisation’s compensation structure, which encourages a more immediate, operational emphasis. 

Communicating without actually listening or interacting 

Leadership must devote considerable time and effort to developing and disseminating the business case for transformation. They have to do it in a way that involves the workforce in the transformation. But far too frequently, even when a burning platform offers a convincing and clear case for change, it cannot convince people to join. This is because one-way communication, even when accompanied by the best supporting resources, is insufficient to persuade employees to act as change agents. Leadership must be willing to let things get a little messy to engage workers through intense, genuine engagement and employee participation in the success of the transition. 

Insufficient emphasis on culture reform 

Culture change is always a necessary component of the transition. The phrase “how we do things around here” can be used by leaders to explain culture, which refers to the customs and practices that guide how work is carried out. All of the work to alter strategy, structure, and systems is likely to be fruitless if that does not change in the required forms (Schein 1979). However, changing a culture’s direction can be difficult. Only by changing people’s behaviours can it be changed. Clearly articulating the behaviours required to drive the transformation is the first stage. 

Insufficient timely, accurate reporting on progress 

It is critical to ascertain early on whether key efforts are developing as expected and, if not, to act swiftly to correct the situation. Similar to a sailboat, the longer it continues, the more difficult it is to correct (Griffith 2010.) Constructing a system to monitor momentum and evaluate development throughout time, as well as mechanisms for informing employees of what has been heard, learned, and is being put into action, is, therefore, necessary if you want to be able to recognise and counteract emerging developments as they arise. 

Lack of momentum generation and maintenance 

All transformations have certain commonalities: They require epic, gruelling and punishing levels of consistency from leaders. Change projects can take years to complete, and most of them fail because stakeholders lose interest in the change process (Armenakis & Wigand 2008). 

No concerted effort was to quicken the transition process 

Organisational transformation projects rarely fail due to poor design, but rather because moving from the old organisation to the new one wasn’t given enough thought. It is common to view “Day One” of a new organisation as the culmination of the trip rather than the beginning of a critical new phase of work to give the new organisation life. The leadership must quickly rewire the organisation during the transition phase in order to avoid these issues. 

Not enough money is spent on helping people succeed 

Last but not least, many transformation programmes neglect to emphasise developing the skills needed for individuals to flourish in the new organisation. There are two errors with this. First, as an organisation changes, the nature of employees’ work also changes. Second, one of the main reasons people resist change is the worry that “what got them here won’t get them there”—that is, they won’t be able to succeed in the new organisation. Therefore, committing up front to investing in assisting others in succeeding lessens opposition. 

Ignoring the impact of change on people 

Change is difficult for our minds to handle. The mere hint of change causes our brains to go into panic mode. Most oppose organisational change; we don’t want our comfortable environment to shift into the uncharted. To effectively manage resistance to change, we must embrace the human side of change and recognise that while all change is good, it is common for people to respond defensively to the unknown. 



Overcoming resistance to change 

Strategists must figure out how to get over these oppositions to change. These initiatives may be made by people working alone, in groups, or as organisations. However, as groups and people make up organisations, an effort is made to coordinate the efforts at the organisational level. 

Bringing about Mindset Change 

Who is responsible for bringing about a shift in people’s mindsets? It is the leaders. In other words, the top brass should serve as examples. The type and degree of change the organisation want to see depend on the leadership qualities that are favourable to that change. 

Creating a Change-Friendly Environment 

Without a supportive environment within the organisation, improvement cannot occur. Because management cannot alter the workplace environment, high-yielding systems are likely to fail. The plans, efforts, and morale are thus destroyed along the road, which is why Professor Victor Tan asserts that “even the well-orchestrated change would fail if the environment were not conducive; therefore, it is vital to building an environment that is positive for a change. 

The senior leaders must do the following in order to maintain a consistently favourable environment: 

Create a Compelling Vision 

Businesses must create a compelling strategic vision that motivates employees and management to work with a burning passion and points them in the direction of the company’s ultimate success, growth, and prosperity. 

Empower People 

For leadership to successfully implement change, there must be unwavering support and involvement from executives and staff members at all levels of the organisation. The focus should be on group decision-making and action rather than showing off the status ego, whims, or failing to use one’s power. There must be coherence in concept, purpose, and action; it must empower people at all levels, making them feel proud of their recognition and ability to contribute to implementation. 

Explaining the Need for Change 

People must understand why change is necessary. What inspired the modification? Why does that support change? Before being asked to take action, people are keen to know the answers to these questions. Therefore, it is crucial to present the justification for the change, which is made possible through effective communication. Unfortunately, most managers either communicate insufficiently or after the fact. As a result, those affected by the shift spread the word through unofficial or informal channels, which widens communication gaps. Despite holding the meetings, the issue of circulars, the same purport and the philosophy of change remains an iceberg, be brought to the notice in an impressive, impelling, and convincing manner. 

Obtaining Commitment to Change 

It’s casual crucial to obtain people’s commitment to change. It is because it does more than give people greater authority and make their work more interesting. Interest is not the same as commitment. Kenreth Blanchard asserts, “when something interests you, you only do it when it is convenient. When you are dedicated to anything, you accept no justifications and only outcomes”. 

In summary, the cost of a company’s unsuccessful transformation, such as a significant restructuring, expansion into a new market, or integration of an acquired business, can be extremely high, with the direct costs of external consulting and internal management time dwarfed by lost opportunities, disruption, and change fatigue. Therefore, the first step in changing your organisation fundamentally is to comprehend why most transformational efforts fail. 



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  2. Griffith, J. 2010. Why change management fails: Journal of Change Management, 2:4, 297-304, DOI: 10.1080/714042516: Published online: 18 Jun 2010
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  5. Meaney, M. and Pung, C. 2008. McKinsey global results: Creating organisational transformations. The McKinsey Quarterly, August: 1–7.
  6. Schein, E. 1979. “Personal change through interpersonal relationships”. In Essays in Interpersonal Dynamics, Edited by: Bennis, W., Van Maanen, J., Schein, E. and Steele, F. 129–162. Homewood, IL: The Dorsey Press.