The Science of Successful Organizational Change

The Science of Successful Organizational Change

This week Steven starts on the numbered chapters of  (the introduction was content rich) Paul Gibbons’ book The Science of Successful Organizational Change.  Remember to use the link to buy a copy to support the author, the podcast, and the blog!

This wee k Steven sent me a note indicating he now understood that the re-read process really causes the person leading the process to gets much deeper into a book leading to a need to write!   As usual, I will add my comments in the comments of for this entry. – Tom

Chapter 1: “Failed Change:  The Greatest Preventable Cost to Business?”

Project Failures

Change project failures are at 70%, or is it 50%?  Gibbons coach us to question and dig down to get at the truth in this chapter.  Plus, introduces us to many of his ideas around change management he will later discuss within this book.

Gibbons helps us better understand the question “Change project failures are at 70% or is it 50%?”, consider these 4 points about this question.

Point 1:  The oft quoted 70% failure rate of change programs is likely only a “modest exaggeration”.  “The statistic ‘70% fails’ was based on a survey data published in a non-peer-reviewed magazine and on out-of-context remarks by two well respected Harvard professors (Kotter and Nohria)” [footnote provided on page 18] (p. 18)

Point 2:  50% failure rate comes from several surveys and is probably closer to what the failure rate actually is.  However, Gibbons warns that surveys asking if change initiatives are successful or fail are not robustly scientific (p. 19) but certainly is more accurate than the 70% quoted by consulting firms to engage with clients noted in point 1.

Point 3:  The definition of failure is at best loose.  Do we need to ask what does failure really means?  Gibbons reference the SOCKS taxonomy of project failures to help us better understand and define failure.  SOCKS stands for:

  1. S = projects that fail because of a shortfall of some expected benefit.
  2. O = projects that fail because of cost overruns.
  3. C = projects that fail because of some unintended
  4. K = projects that fail because they are killed/terminated without completing.
  5. S = projects that fail after deployment because they are not sustainable.

Point 4:  Even with a crisp definition of failure, the definition of a change project is often ambiguous.  Gibbons lists 10 categories to help group and define change projects:

  1. Strategy deployment
  2. Restructuring/downsizing
  3. Technology change
  4. Mixed change
  5. TQM (Six Sigma)
  6. Mergers and acquisitions
  7. Reengineering/process design
  8. Software development/installation
  9. Business expansion
  10. Culture change

Each of these change project categories has their own associated failure rates.  Culture changes generally have the worst success rates of all types of change projects.

Later in this chapter, Gibbons uses the high failure rate of change projects to launch another topic — moving from Change Management to Change Leadership.  It is Gibbons position that change management knowledge and skills need to be more widespread across the management team. The need is driven by the fact that leading and managing change is one common activity at every level of the organization.  Gibbons states the need as:

“The amount of change that managers deal with, the high failure rates of programmatic change, and the constant challenges of continuous change suggest that failed (or failing) change is the single largest preventable cost to the business.” (p. 26)

Change is Continuous

A key point Gibbons makes about change is that change is constant.  This observation mirrors my professional experience. This means that change is NOT a single episodic disruption to a business that occurs then everything settles down to a status quo.  The change model of “unfreeze, change, freeze” no longer applies, unless you are decorating ice-cubes.

Gibbons previews many of the topics covered in this book by listing several “Change Myths.”  He includes the chapter that the myth will be debunked and/or challenged.

I challenge you to pick one of these Change Myths (pages 28 – 29) that you think cannot be false.  Many of these Change Myths are commonly accepted truths about change and/or human behavior.

My pick – “Involving many people slows progress”.
Chapter 8 should shed light for me about this Change Myth.

Next week we look at the Part I Overview “Change-Agility and Chapter 2 “From Change Fragility to Change-Agility”.

Previous entries in the re-read of the book The Science of Successful Organizational Change (buy a copy!)

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Introduction