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The Top 5 Reasons That Change Programs Fail

14 March 2023

Change is an inevitable part of every organisation’s lifecycle. It can be a result of growth, market demands, technological advancements, new ways of working, restructures or mergers and acquisitions.

Implementing change is not easy. In fact, we know it is really hard! Change and uncertainty create stress, which negatively impacts well-being and performance.

The cost of getting a change program wrong or under-investing in it is enormous, and much of the cost is ‘below the surface’. You can’t see it, but you know it is there: It looks like quiet-quitting, increased absenteeism, ‘go slow’ work practices and a dip in engagement levels.

Traditional change management involves a structured approach to managing the people, processes, and technology impacts of the change initiative.

Change management programs are designed to minimise the impact of change on employees and ensure that the change process is as smooth as possible. Despite the best efforts of organisations, change management programs often fail.

In this post, we will explore the top five reasons change management programs fail.

Lack of Leadership Support

Leadership support is critical for the success of change management programs. Leaders must be fully committed to the change initiative and actively involved in the process.

This means understanding ‘why’ the change is occurring, being prepared to adapt and pivot as required, encouraging engagement and curiosity from team members, doubling down on communication and being visible, accessible, and supportive throughout the change management process.

However, many organisations fail to provide adequate support for their leaders or from their leaders, triggering confusion, uncertainty, and resistance.

Inadequate Communication

Communication is crucial every day in every organisation, and never more so during major change programs.

The communication theory of ‘7-times in 7 different ways’ means you tell it, show it, share it, demonstrate it, reinforce it, write it, and do it again and again. And the communication channels must include multiple two-way models facilitating questions, feedback, and consultation.

However, many organisations fail to communicate effectively, leading to confusion, frustration, and resistance. Organisations must communicate the reasons for the change, the expected outcomes, and how it will affect employees’ jobs and the organisation as a whole.

Failure to communicate effectively can lead to ambiguity and confusion and undermine the success of the change program. Remember, there is no risk of over-communicating!

Lack of Understanding of the Purpose of the Change

We have all heard about change for change-sake. This wastes time and results in minimal buy-in.

Being very clear about ‘why’ the change is occurring and what the change aims to achieve is key to engagement, acceptance, and the ability to manage and measure progress effectively.

Organisations must win both the hearts and minds of the employees: Understanding the ‘why and the benefits’ will win the hearts, while understanding the ‘impacts the change will have on me and my role’ will win the heads.

Organisations must establish a clear why for the change and measurable goals and objectives and communicate them effectively to all stakeholders.

Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is common and can derail even the most well-planned change management programs.

Us humans have been adapting to change for thousands of years. We can and do adapt to change. What we resist is change being ‘done to us’.

Resistance comes from a lack of understanding of the reason for the change, lack of engagement in the change planning, exhaustion that yet another change is underway, fear of job security and the fear of the unknown.

Organisations must provide training and tools to build tolerance of uncertainty. People need to be equipped with skills to better navigate the complexities and frustrations associated with change.

Change is not going away, so organisations need to get better at supporting their people to embrace it rather than resist it.  


Ambiguity is the ‘sleeper’ when it comes to change management failures.

An ambiguous environment causes confusion as the environment is often unfamiliar. It can create data that is open to multiple interpretations; it serves up complexity which requires new ways of thinking and, more specifically, lacks clarity or understanding of the change initiative’s goals, objectives, and outcomes.

Ambiguity can create confusion, uncertainty, and resistance and undermine the success of the change management program. Organisations need to address the ambiguity by over-communicating, providing clarity in preference to certainty (as it is just not possible to provide much certainty these days), encouraging an environment of creative thinking and one where it is ok to fail if you are learning and trying again.

In conclusion, change management programs can be complex and challenging. They require careful planning, execution, and leadership.

Leaders need to be present, visible, courageous, and assertive. They must establish clear goals and objectives and relentlessly communicate the ‘why and how’. They need to accept that people approach change differently and provide training and tools to build skills to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity better.

By addressing these five key reasons for failure, organisations can increase their chances of success and achieve their desired outcomes.

Kerryn Fewster

Kerryn is the Founder and Director of AdaptiQ Minds. She has consulted extensively in the area of Transition and Transformation. She places emphasis on strategy development and solution implementation to minimise people and operational impacts associated with major change.

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