In companies, every major change topic is run as a project. However, only a small proportion of these projects actually changes the company sustainably. Many slip into the “implementation gap”. After enjoying initial support by a clear majority of employees, they soon fail during the implementation phase due to the disruptive rift between high ambitions and operative reality.
Empirical studies reveal that two thirds of all change initiatives are not implemented successfully (see McKinsey & Company: “The irrational side of change management”, McKinsey Quarterly, April 2009). Often, the causes of failure are deeply rooted in the corporate culture. Employees put on the brakes, executives jump ship or publicly question the intended changes, the mood in both project team and company darkens because the change process takes too long, etc. Here are two typical examples of companies where the failure of change initiatives can be traced back to their corporate culture:
The merger between Daimler and Chrysler in 1998 rapidly turned into a nightmare for the Stuttgart car manufacturer. What had been initially celebrated as a “marriage made in heaven” ended in a nasty divorce in 2007. The reason: There was a poor cultural fit between the two companies and neither was willing to accept the unique aspects of the other’s culture.
In response to the massive surge of digitalization, many well-established companies in Germany are trying to make up for their lack of agility and speed of change by cooperating with or copying the working style and culture of start-up firms. Often to no avail. According to the Federation of German Start-up Companies’ 2017 survey, only 50% of start-up companies cooperate with large and medium-sized companies, down from 70% in 2016. The cultural rift is simply too large.
Many change initiatives fail because adapting strategies and processes often requires a fundamental and sustainable change in the mindset and behaviour of the workforce – a cultural change – that is unsuccessful. The corporate culture, the sum of all values and behaviours of the employees, has a tremendous impact on the company’s ability to adapt to a changing environment.
Based on acondas’ experience supporting numerous complex change projects, we recommend seven measures for successfully implementing change:
1. Create awareness and understanding for change Develop a “change story“ and communicate its key messages, the transformation goals, progress so far, and first visible results on a regular basis.
2. Show visible support of your top management Your top executives should incorporate the change and talk about it on every occasion. If they fail to do so, your change ambitions will soon lose credibility and your employees will find it hard to get on board.
3. Identify driving factors and road blocks Analyse your current situation: What forces are driving change, what are the major obstacles? Whom can you use as multipliers? Whom do you still need to convince?
4. Integrate change in company targets, existing projects and structures The new culture should become part of your corporate targets. Adapt the structures in your company to fit the transformation. Do your reporting lines and decision processes still support the target culture? Consider which of your current projects could support and strengthen the change towards a new culture? Look for tangible opportunities to show your workforce that change is underway.
5. Involve your employees and enable them for change Ask your employees about their fears, hopes and desires. You will get more commitment if you delegate responsibilities to your staff. Enable your employees to learn through their own experience and experiments. But don’t forget to help your employees develop the skills and abilities the transformation will require of them!
6. Strengthen and monitor change the change For a sustainable change, be aware of where things stand: Survey employees on a regular basis and integrate the target culture and desired behaviours into your feedback and performance processes.
7. Drive change on local level, too Particularly in large organizations, it is often difficult to address each and every employee directly. Therefore, start building a network of change agents to promote change initiatives in their sphere of influence. To reach a critical mass, you should train about ten percent of your employees affected by the change as change agents.
Implementing these seven measures will help you achieve cultural change, a cornerstone of successfully implementing your change initiative.
If you have questions about how to implement change initiatives successfully or about our consulting approach, feel free to contact us at: