By Rachel Thompson and the Mind Tools Team
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Why Change Can Fail

Knowing What Not to Do

Why Change Can Fail

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There's no denying it – change is tough!

There's no denying it – change is tough!

When thinking about change, we often look for "how to" tips: How do you start a change process? How do you engage people in change? How do you make sure you follow through on your change plans?

With something as complex as change, forward-thinking "how-tos" are usually only half of the picture. So don't just ask how change succeeds, ask why it fails: This can offer valuable lessons as well!

Look back on a recent change initiative. Have you ever caught yourself saying, "We should have done this." or "If only we'd done that."? If yes, you can probably appreciate exploring change from a failure perspective. There are so many variables to consider in any change project – and so many things that can go wrong!

So let's consider "what goes wrong." Learning from experience is very powerful, and it's worth applying the lessons from other people's mistakes before you start down the path of change.

Here are seven main reasons that change can fail.

Change Can Fail Because...

1. It's Not Compelling

Change needs a clear and valid reason. Don't "push it through" – it's much better to convince people that it's important and urgent – only that way can you get a clear commitment from others. To ensure that you have a solid foundation to build a change movement, identify the reasons for the change.

  • What conditions create the need for change?
  • What are the underlying causes?
  • Have you identified and made a case for the change?
  • Have you identified the one crucial reason for change?

Do the necessary work up-front to gain people's commitment and build their desire to see the change through to its completion.

Get the right people on board, and start with a clear rationale and well-defined objectives. Kotter's 8-Step Change Model calls this the need to create a sense of urgency. After all, it's normal human nature to resist change unless you see a clear reason for it.

For detailed ideas on figuring out where change needs to happen, see the Burke-Litwin Change Model . This gives you a framework for understanding the dynamics of organizational change, and for applying it to your situation.

2. It's Not Required

Change cannot be an option. People often don't want to change, and they often won't, unless they're have good reason to. This means that top management must commit wholeheartedly to the change, and they should accept nothing less from everyone else.

  • Do your company's leaders openly support the change?
  • Do they "walk the talk" and do as they say?
  • Do they demand commitment to change?
  • Do you have a way to measure staff engagement and participation?

Asking people to change isn't enough – it needs to be a requirement.

3. It's Not Communicated

You can demand change and create a convincing reason for it, but you also need...

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