Change is not an event

Change is a process, not an event. John Kotter

It has been said that more than 75% of organizational change efforts fail.  That begs the question of what causes change efforts to fail?

Here are a few of the reasons:

  • The need for change is unclear to the masses.  The necessity of it has not been clearly articulated or understood at the individual level.   

  • Complacency overcomes urgency.  Maintaining the status quo feels comfortable.

  • Resistance is unexpected.  Leaders often think that just because they have bought into the change, others will come along as well.

  • Lack of commitment throughout the organization.  Other priorities and daily work take priority over the change initiative.  Since there are only so many hours in the day, the initiatives that are in place and have existing momentum take precedence.

Successful change efforts are not easy.  They require a clear plan and exceptional change leadership skills.  Change leaders have several common attributes that make them effective.

You must have and be able to articulate a strong vision.  This will simplify a lot of decisions, motivate employees to take action and also will help coordinate the actions of people in efficient ways.

As a leader you must already operate effectively in the current culture.  Teams will not follow ineffective leaders who do not model desired behaviors.

Effective communication skills cannot be over stated.  It has been studied and reported that many leaders under communicate in times of change by a factor of 10.  Change leaders need to communication the vision through simple, heartfelt messages via multiple channels so that people begin to buy into the change.  People change less because of data and facts and more if the change real. 

Urgency helps motivate personnel to overcome complacency, fear, anger, or pessimism, which result in resistance.

Communicating is a process and different levels of communication are needed for different goals.  You can think about it in this order:  Awareness, Understanding, Commitment, Action.

  • They first must become aware that something needs to be done

  • They have to understand it

  • Be committed to it and then act


It may not be necessary for everyone to leap to action for a change to be successful.  Some people may only need to be aware of what is going on, others may need to understand it, while others will need to be committed and then act.  It is up to the first level supervisor and leadership to determine where each team member is on the continuum of awareness, understanding commitment and action

 Another key skill is to empower your team by removing obstacles to the vision.  Processes, systems and structures have been created to support the status quo.  Ensure these have changed to support the newly desired change.  This includes ensuring reward programs, performance goals and skills are aligned for the future.

Be sure to Create short-term wins that provide momentum and then maintain momentum so that wave after wave of change is possible.  Make your change stick by nurturing a new culture. Anchoring the new changes in the culture. 

A change leader is someone who knows how to initiate, lead and manage change.  These attributes are not necessarily inherent in every leader, but they can be learned and developed with sufficient training and coaching. 

“A leader takes people where they do not want to go.  A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”  Rosalynn Carter