Why Do Change Transformation Programs Fail?

Jul 13, 2016
6 Min Read

Why Do Change Transformation Programs Fall Apart?

Organization change and transformation programs can vastly improve what happens within a company and have an amazing impact on business results. But way too many of them fall apart after the key players such as a consultant or leader move on to other priorities.

The goals of change management are to guide the people of the organization through the transition process as it moves from idea to execution. The key objective is to manage the transition to help the organization achieve the expected business results.

That’s where most organizations fall short.

In his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges separates the change event from the transition process. Change is the way things will be different, transition is the how.

Change: The physical event – the budget is cut, a new organization structure is implemented, processes change, new practices are introduced, new technology is installed, or new regulations are passed are just a few examples.

Transition: The process people go through to adjust to the change - being anxious and upset about the change, trying to figure out how it will affect them, being nostalgic about the old way of doing things, learning new skills, building new relationships, trying new methods, and gradually becoming accustomed to the new methods and environment.

According to Bridges, this transition process has three phases:

  • Losses and Endings: letting go of the old
  • The Neutral Zone: a disorienting sort of "nowhere"
  • New Beginnings: embracing the new normal


Bridges’ Transition Process

Bridges asserts that if people don't deal with each of these phases, the change will be just a re-arrangement of the furniture. And then we’ll say the change didn’t work.

Prosci, a leading research organization on change management, recommends using the ADKAR® Model to ensure lasting change and business results. This structure is outlined in Jeffrey Hiatt’s book, ADKAR: How to Implement Successful Change in Our Personal Lives and Professional Careers.


The Prosci ADKAR® Model for Change

The ADKAR® model for change provides a path to incrementally walk the organization through the change effort.

  • A - Awareness of why the change is needed
  • D - Desire to support and participate in the change
  • K - Knowledge of how to change and what the change looks like
  • A - Ability to implement new skills and behaviors
  • R - Reinforcement to sustain the change

Some general tasks that may be accomplished in each phase of the transition are identified in the ADKAR® model.

Awareness – Develop an evergreen change management plan that details stakeholders and steps to be taken with each group to ensure their awareness of the change is addressed.

Desire – Integrate discussions about the change in every meeting and look for opportunities to talk about the change in day-to-day interactions. Use open-ended questions (how, who, what) to determine how the people in the organization feel about the change.

Knowledge – Provide training and detailed information about how to use new processes, systems or tools. Educate employees about new roles and responsibilities.

Ability – Ensure that employees can actually demonstrate the change desired, like operating a new program or performing a new skill. Provide readily accessible support resources.

Reinforcement – Use formal and informal opportunities to reinforce that the change is good for the organization and its people. This can be as simple as a “thank you” for embracing the change or a major event that celebrates the new way of doing things.

It’s important that each step of the ADKAR® model be addressed as the project moves through its life cycle. Historically, typical projects go from announcement to training with little regard for the other steps that can make the project a major success. And that’s why the change doesn’t stick.

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