I wanted to talk today about change failure and, as you know, I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on change and change failure – mostly to confirm or get a feel for how accurate I am when it comes to what I’ve been seeing over the 15-some-odd years of doing change work and the statistics are pretty scary. Current statistics on organizational change success – 70 percent or more of change initiatives fail and those numbers are apparently increasing. And yet, there’s a greater demand for change and needing to be agile in the face of a very uncertain environment and we’re becoming worse at it. And, I suspect, that your experience in that space is very similar to mine where there’s all these change initiatives and there might be a little bit of focus and then as soon as we’ve done the ceremony, had the training, turned it on, let’s do the next change.
And so people wind up being really tired, which is a common reaction to change initiatives. Particularly, I noticed that in the last five years working in organizations where it’s one thing after another, after another and people are just tired. The second thing is that even when you’re looking at personal change or habit change, the failure rate is 80 to 90 percent. And when I see the research on that, a lot of it is focused on, well maybe you didn’t chunk it small enough, you didn’t do anything with your environment … throw away the cookies. But I think there’s something that has been missed in some of this conversation. The reason that I’ve seen that change fails both in organizations and in just the personal changes we’re trying to make. We have not considered the impact on other people and we have not considered how we need to interact with other people to make that change successful.
So here’s what I mean when I talk about how we haven’t considered the impact on other people. In an organizational sense, I’ve often seen it as, “Okay, well we’re going to do the stakeholder matrix and we’re going to know them as a trainer.” You’re looking at it in terms of: “Who are my audiences? What’s the change that can happen now?” It’s very surface level, but we really haven’t considered both the short term impact because any change is going to slow people down as they learn new processes. They learn new tools and they have to integrate and learn how their interactions with others change. That’s a layer that we don’t normally get into when it comes to organizational change Then on the personal level, when many of us approach change for ourselves, like the new year’s resolution, we’re thinking about the behaviors and the changes we need to make personally without considering how this impacts others.
For instance, I actually had this conversation with my better half last night. I’m thinking about changing up some of the things that we eat. We’ve gotten a little sloppy with our diet and, thing is, if I was going the way I typically go and we have typically gone into things, it’s like, “Okay, well… I’m just going to change my diet and start eating vegetables and all that.” There’s a possibility that, that could get derailed pretty quickly because maybe on a day I want a salad, he wants pizza. I like pizza. How easy is it going to be for him to derail me from the salad to go eat pizza?
The changes that we make for ourselves tend to have a greater impact on others. It’s the same thing when you’re looking at even family and friends or people outside. Again, I’m going to use food as an example. There’s a social component around food and going into food situations where, “No, I can’t eat this, I can’t eat this, I can eat this.”
It’s good to set boundaries, but it does have a social impact. That’s something that often we don’t consider. I know for myself, if, whenever I’ve made changes and those changes happen to stick, part of it is me. I’m healthy. Part of it is me, but some of it is also how I’m interacting with the people in my environment now. Like a lot of humans, I want to belong.
I’m doing it more to make myself a little healthier. I don’t have medical issues, I’m not trying to lose a ton of weight. And I’m fortunate enough to not have food addictions, or that sort of thing. It is still worth considering how your personal changes are going to impact others.
The other thing that often gets lost, and I’m thinking part of it is because it’s really uncomfortable, is how we interact with people needs to change oftentimes with change. I’m going to go again to organizational…the personal on an organizational level. What tends to happen, or at least what I’ve seen in my career, is change comes down from on high and is inflicted on others, especially these process changes. But the people who are leading that change are treating it as “It’s a change you need to make. I don’t really need to do anything.” They may not mean to send that message, but that’s often the message they send – like, “I’m separate and apart from this change. Even though you have to make the change, it doesn’t apply to me.”
There’s modeling that needs to be considered. There’s How does this change what I’m rewarding? How does this change how I interact with people? Do I need to treat people differently?
A really big example of this is that shift to Agile requires an awful lot of changes in relationships between people. And I think that that’s one of the things that gets lost and that’s one of the reasons why a number of Agile implementations go sideways. And then on a personal level, again, there’s interaction changes. I’m not only modeling, “Hey, I’m really trying to do what I say I’m going to do,” but also setting boundaries, setting and maintaining boundaries. I’m asking for help – which is difficult for a lot of us.
I know I am super guilty of this and I am working on this constantly. Asking for help is really, really hard. If you’re not someone who has typically asked for help, that’s a major change in the way you interact with people. That’s one of the reasons why I’m writing the personal change planning book. I think that one of the ways we can really help our cause and make new habits stick is to deeply consider the impact on others and how we need to change how we interact with others. So I hope that helps. The link to the preorder for the personal change planning book I’m working on is below. Please comment or send any feedback or questions on this video or on the blog post.
Change for All Quadrants: Personal Change Planning – is now available for pre-order on Publishizer.
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