Talking Point: The Disney Institute Blog

Why 70 Percent of Organizational Change Fails (Part 1)

October 25, 2012 by Jeff James, Vice President & General Manager, Disney Institute

In an article published by Rick Maurer author of "Beyond the Wall of Resistance," he points out that, “70 percent of all changes attempted in organizations fail.” These failures, of course, have consequences. In addition to wasted costs/resources and lost opportunities are the less obvious cynicism and fear that plague future attempts at change.

Additionally, Maurer lists the following four reasons for unsuccessful change:

1. Lack of Knowledge: “The knowing-doing gap,” a book by Jeff Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, found that there is a large gap between the knowledge that people possess and the amount of knowledge that is applied. “Piling up more knowledge” isn’t necessarily the answer, it’s figuring out its application.

2. Lack of Skill and Practice: You’ve likely heard the phrase “Practice makes perfect,” and the subsequent response, “Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice make perfect.” Like any athlete, musician or work professional, you must practice to improve your craft. Focused and deliberate practice is what Maurer says is often missing from management education.

3. Hidden Conflicts Working Against Change: According to one statistic, “Only one out of seven people with life-threatening heart problems actually does anything to change their lifestyle.” That same unwillingness to change exists in organizations. Leaders report that it would “take too long to involve others” or that they see delegating as “a sign of weakness.” These beliefs lead to conflicts between what a leader should do and what they will actually do, sometimes unknowingly undermining their own goals and at the cost of successful change.

4. Culture Working Against Change: There are the rules governing employee behavior that come straight from the manual—the ones that say your organization “respects individuals, teamwork, diversity [and] innovative thinking.” Then there are the “real” rules that govern your environment, the ones that sometimes slip off the tip of a tongue during a meeting. An organization must decide if the “real” rules are supporting or preventing change.

Check back next week as we discuss not just why these changes fail, but what you can do NOW to increase your odds of change success.

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