Taking the initiative for successful transformations

By Mark Schroffel

20150605_093030You would have seen the those stunning statistics for failed change programs: Kotter claims that 70% of change efforts fail*, a Project Management Institute survey suggests 50% of strategic initiatives miss key objectives**, and the IBM Institute for Strategic Value puts failure rates at around the 60% mark***.

Even though these figures may look somewhat shrill-ish, they rightly suggest that organisational transformations are difficult to do.

The issue for CEO’s and executives is that the operational agility required to be successful in today’s business environment means that their organisations need to be switched on for change.

While the conventional wisdom around change management focusses on helping people through the journey, I think change managers sometimes overlook the harsh realities of business and mistakenly focus on building buy-in and commitment while overlooking the need to establish and maintain momentum. The more time it takes to transition, the more it costs, the longer the pain will linger, and the greater the risk of long-term damage to the business.

It’s a given that communication and resistance will be a challenge for any transformation, however ahead of these is the time imperative. When time is of the essence (and when is it not?), there’s no substitute for swift and decisive action. Carl von Clausewitz (a much studied and quoted 16th Century military strategist) once said; “It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.”

This suggests that sometimes mistakes will be made in the interests of achieving the objective. So yes, business leaders need to be people savvy; however, for the sake of everyone, they must also keep things moving.


* Kotter, J. P. (2007), Leading change. Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review Reprints, pp.1-10.
** Project Management Institute (2014), PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance, February 2014, p.4.
*** IBM (2008), Making Change Work Study, p.2.


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