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Reasons Why Transformation Fails


Reasons Why Transformation Fails

In this article, Natalie Ceeney identifies a few reasons why transformation efforts fail. 

…or why large organisations find transformation so hard

Anyone in business knows that ‘change’ is a fact of life. ‘Change management’ is taught on every leadership course, and we all know the essentials of good ‘change management’ (clear vision, over communicate, create a guiding coalition and more). But surely something is going wrong. If we all know how to ‘change’, why are so many organisations struggling to do so?

The degree of disruptive change in today’s business is unprecedented – certainly since the industrial revolution two centuries ago. Growing up, I booked holidays by walking into travel agencies. Today, around 80% of all flights and holidays are booked online, by players who didn’t exist 20 years ago. We’ve seen retail stalwarts – Woolworth, Jessops, HMV – destroyed by online retailing and by new business models and technology. The visits to Blockbuster Video shops once on our high streets have been replaced on Sunday evenings by a couple of clicks onto Netflix. The taxi industry has been so disrupted by Uber that black cab drivers are fearing for their future, whilst hoteliers have seen AirBNB challenge the whole model, of hotel stays. It is hard to see many industries which can be immune.

But as I talk to senior managers in major incumbent businesses, across industries and sectors, I hear the same thing. “We can’t get change to happen here”. “it’s chaos – we are working harder and harder to squeeze pennies out of the residual business as we lose the profitable parts to new players”. “We can’t seem to see the writing on the wall – we’re using the same strategies over and over again, and they just aren’t working”.

Is our ‘change management’ approach no longer fit for purpose?

‘Change’ is not one thing.

Although we’ve got a large body of thought around how to ‘do change well’, we don’t seem to differentiate between types of change. Taking today’s business model and perfecting it is not the same type of change as setting up a challenger business model. Picking the right type of change to invest time and energy in is the necessary first step to getting ahead, or becoming irrelevant.

As a CEO who’s led change throughout my career, I see three very distinct types of change. Change management is a tool. But like any tool, its use is situational. A hammer is a fantastic tool for putting a nail into a piece of wood, but pretty poor at creating a neat hole in that same plank. Using the wrong tool in the wrong situation – whether a hammer or a change management technique – is going to lead to failure.


Key points include:

  • Continuous improvement or iteration
  • Vision, investment, and bravery
  • Disruptive change


Read the full post, Rethinking ‘change’ (or “why transformation fails”), on LinkedIn.