Did you know Amazon.com lists an astonishing 49,150 titles under the category Organizational Change?
Did you know executive surveys and opinions of change management experts’ claim only 30% of organizational change efforts are successful?
Did you know most of the explanations for the high failure rate center on employee attitudes and behavior?
With all those books to read and a 70% failure rate, it seems there is a bit of a disconnect somewhere. So what exactly is going on here?
If you are a bit skeptical of such an astounding number, check out a report from international consulting firm McKinsey & Company entitled “The Inconvenient Truth about Change Management.”
Organizational change rarely, if ever, starts at the employee level. The impetus comes from on high. Small to medium sized business owner/operators, CEO’s and division level executives, and on occasion even corporate boards are the masterminds of the grand schemes intended to change things as they are. The advice the movers and shakers read or get from paid consultants about successful implementation seems to focus primarily on employee attitudes and behavior.
It is the employees who will feel threatened by organizational change. The reasons are many – job loss, reduced income, fewer career opportunities, and simple fear of the unknown. But what about the owners and executives themselves?
The McKinsey paper lists nine “inconvenient truths” about organizational change that contribute to the failure rate. Only one of the nine includes management attitudes and behavior.
It is not an earth shattering revelation that changing the way an organization is currently doing something is a tacit admission that what was being done was less than totally effective.
And who is primarily responsible for the path on which the organization is travelling? Do the employees deemed the culprits in many a failed organizational change effort set organization policy and procedures? Of course not.
Certainly the threats felt at the employee level are serious concerns, but anyone interested in successful organizational change would do well not to assume employees are the only ones who feel threatened. At the employee level the threats are largely “security” issues, but for executives and entrepreneurs who have clawed their way to the top, facing changes in the very things they have done to get to the top, is a threat to their self-esteem.
Of course not all organizational change centers on “bad” policies and procedures. In an increasingly competitive global market things that were effective yesterday may be ineffective today. While this kind of organizational change may be less threatening to some executives, for others there is that gnawing feeling they should have recognized the need for change sooner.
Experts in the field of organizational change management will tell you humans are driven not just by concerns at the forefront of our consciousness, but also by fears shrouded deep within the recesses of our minds. The implication for change drivers is important. The threat to self-esteem may not be the first thing that comes to mind every morning, but do not assume it isn’t there.
It would seem then that perhaps the initiators of organizational change efforts might do well to realize the employees are not the only members of the organization to feel threatened. A good place to begin assessing the threat level would be a mirror.
Here is what one of history’s greatest change agents – Mohandas K. Gandhi – had to say:
“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”
In short, if you want to change your organization, start by changing yourself.
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