3 (Surprising) Reasons Why Change Management Programs Fail

In the last few decades, leaders have been witnessing increasing complexity and an exponential rate of change from the outside and they have experienced a number of internal challenges hindering the performance of their organizations: among these, we find a silo mentality, rigidity, stultifying bureaucracy, an excess of systems and processes, and an outdated command & control management style.

These challenges are common to all corporations, across geography, industries and size. The higher the organizational entropy (or level of dysfunction), the more typical the challenges: bureaucracy, hierarchy, control, short-term focus, silo mentality, blame, and information hoarding.
Many organizations try to solve their issues implementing a change management program. The program can be about moving to a matrix structure or a flat structure, adopting Lean or Agile initiatives, and more recently Smart Working.

Now … the research so far shows that only 30% of change initiatives express their full potential… and it is interesting to note that this percentage has not changed in the last 20 years.

So much has been written about the reasons that lead to these results, but in our opinion, little has been said about three of the main reasons why, from our point of view, the change management process does not work as it should:

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The first concerns the fact that in most cases the change management principles are implemented without worrying too much about the need to change the mindset and the conditions of distrust, control and inequity that permeate the culture of most companies. Implementing a change management process without taking this element into account is like throwing a seed on dry land and hoping that a strong plant will miraculously grow.

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The second reason, which is also one of the most important discoveries of our research, is that the hierarchical system, by itself, reinforces precisely those dynamics that the company wants to eliminate. It’s as if I wanted to lose weight and feel fit by changing my diet, but I keep swallowing more calories than needed and not making changes to other aspects of my lifestyle.

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The third reason is that all change models suggested by change management consultants require that the change be defined, planned, refined and approved by a narrow circle of top managers with very little input and no employee participation. When the change plan is presented to the rest of the organization it’s then untouchable and any suggestion or doubt from employees is labeled as “resistance to change”. But people do not resist change. They resist impositions.

1

The first concerns the fact that in most cases the change management principles are implemented without worrying too much about the need to change the mindset and the conditions of distrust, control and inequity that permeate the culture of most companies. Implementing a change management process without taking this element into account is like throwing a seed on dry land and hoping that a strong plant will miraculously grow.

2

The second reason, which is also one of the most important discoveries of our research, is that the hierarchical system, by itself, reinforces precisely those dynamics that the company wants to eliminate. It’s as if I wanted to lose weight and feel fit by changing my diet, but I keep swallowing more calories than needed and not making changes to other aspects of my lifestyle.

3

The third reason is that all change models suggested by change management consultants require that the change be defined, planned, refined and approved by a narrow circle of top managers with very little input and no employee participation. When the change plan is presented to the rest of the organization it’s then untouchable and any suggestion or doubt from employees is labeled as “resistance to change”. But people do not resist change. They resist impositions.

When in a company there is such an important focus on control and a lack of fairness between those who can
make decisions and those who can only implement them, the message that people receive, beyond the goodwill of
managers, is that there are two categories of employees: one above and one below. Employees who are below do not
deserve trust, so they must be monitored and supervised and cannot make decisions. On the other hand, only the
highest ranks of the organization are authorized to make decisions. In this way, control, bureaucracy, lack of trust,
internal competition, risk aversion, silos are continually fed.

When initiatives like Agile, Lean and now Smart Working are adopted by organizations whose leadership has a dominant hierarchical perspective, these working philosophies become at best only a process improvement to increase efficiency, profits or productivity. Without ever reaching their true potential or, in many cases, failing. In the presence of hierarchy, change management models allow to adopt only those practices that align with the hierarchical way of thinking and which are consistent with a hierarchical mentality. It is not surprising, for example, that all companies seeking to generate empowerment within a top-down management system invest so much effort. If you think about it, it’s a paradox … and it’s certainly not the only one we can think of.

Adopting an AEquacy structure and mindset is the way to overcome the systemic issues generated by hierarchy so that change is enduring and sustainable.