There is one constant – change

Why is change (still) difficult?

The challenges and possibilities facing business leaders have one constant – change

We know that roughly two-thirds of all major change initiatives do not have the desired impact – and that the cause is often a lack of competence and/or time invested in change management.

Why is change still difficult?

Inspired and intrigued by this, we asked 25 CEOs and top executives in private companies and public organisations to share their point of view on the subject of change.

The majority of those we interviewed said that driving successful change is a significant challenge and that – despite all the theories and frameworks that exist in the academic world – succeeding with change is still very much a question of having a clear sense of purpose and direction, well-developed instincts for what needs to be done (and in what sequence), integrity and courage to stand behind your ideas, even in the face of opposition, and to have the ability to engage people’s hearts and minds.

One reason why change is difficult is that you easily get overambitious, take on too many things and then lose focus.

One of the observations we made is that the majority of the CEOs believed that the above-mentioned success factors are in fact skills that can be acquired through training and experience (they all admitted to having made their fair share of mistakes in the past and that failure can be a great teacher).

Train yourself for successful change

“One reason why change is difficult is that you easily get overambitious, take on too many things and then lose focus. You are eager (to succeed) and you reach a point where you are no longer able to hold back all the good ideas … it is important to be selective and hard.”

“Usually, the top management has lived with the ideas behind the change for a long time and discussed visions, goals and challenges – then you dump all of this down into the organisation and expect people to simply get going. The problem is that mentally you have an organisation that is in a different place than you are as a top leader.”

“I have been part of some global change initiatives done “the American way”, meaning Big Bang, tight time pressure and very little involvement from the people in the organisation. These types of change processes are sometimes necessary, but they are usually not very effective in the long run.”

What the CEOs agreed on

  • Driving change is basically what a leader does – it is the job.
  • It is seldom easy, but it can be more or less difficult, depending on how the change is perceived and the consequences of the change.
  • Very few said that they use a set framework or a theoretical model for change management. What they use is experience (what worked before), some basic principles (such as “involvement of the top-100”) and an “agile” approach, including a fair degree of trial and error.

This article is an extract from The CEO's viewpoint on leading change