Why Do Change Initiatives Fail?

Patricia Sherlock

With only 90 days left in 2012, I have had many conversations with management executives who are planning for next year. I wanted to share lessons learned when implementing change in a sales organization—whether it is installing a new training program or sales process.

In the big picture, many change initiatives fail. Research conducted by Harvard professor and change guru John Kotter has shown that only 30 percent of change initiatives succeed. Why does this happen? Kotter identified a number of factors that contribute to the failure of change programs. Here are the most common pitfalls:

1. Allowing too much complacency: First-line managers (FLMs) are the critical cog in the machine for transforming sales behavior. Why? Because FLMs must lead by example, they need to internalize the expected behavior change and adopt it as the accepted way to coach and manage their business. Transformation will never succeed if FLMs don’t understand why change is necessary and what the change objectives are. FLMs should agree on what the sales organization is trying to accomplish, how it will achieve these goals and the importance of bringing every sales person along on the same journey.

2. Lack of a clear vision and the ability to communicate the vision: Vision is a key catalyst for change because it paints a picture of what a team can achieve if they make the commitment. Vision inspires sales people to get behind the cause and see the personal, emotional and financial benefits of taking the tough path that leads to improved sales performance. Likewise, having a vision isn’t enough without it being effectively communicated—early, well and often. Frequent communication gives the expected changes any chance of taking hold. Senior leaders and managers must not just talk the talk but walk the walk. Managers must outline what success will look like.

3. Failure to reinforce the new behaviors: One of the most crucial factors is FLMs must be held accountable to reinforce the new behaviors. Frequently calling out examples of the new behaviors and showing how the new behaviors will generate improved sales success is imperative. Failure to do so increases the risk of sales professionals abandoning the new behaviors with precious training dollars down the drain.

Change initiatives are not easy but are well worth the effort if properly planned, executed and frequently reinforced.

Here is an excellent article McKinsey & Co. published on change management.
View the PDF.

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