Executive Development Blog

Making Change Work

Posted by UNC Executive Development on Dec 9, 2013 2:05:00 PM


Making Change Work

Tony Laffoley, Program Director at UNC Executive Development authored a paper on "Making Change Work". Enjoy the summary and click below to download the full paper.

An outcome of today’s increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment is constant and rapid change. Organizations unable to keep up with that change will quickly become obsolete. Far too many organizations, unfortunately, get failing grades when it comes to managing change initiatives. In his book Leading Change (Harvard Business School Press), change management expert John Kotter estimated that 70 percent of all change initiatives fail. HR and talent managers must not only be able to manage change, they must prepare leaders and employees to manage it as well.

change talent management

Why Change Initiatives Fail

A 2012 study by Capgemini found that in these volatile times, change management should be a core competency in most organizations, yet its survey of Norwegian business leaders found that 45 percent of all companies currently do not excel at change management. So what does managing change effectively entail? The study found three areas in which organizations should strive to improve when implementing change initiatives:

David Leonard and Claude Coltea from Gallup assert that 70 percent of all change initiatives fail because change agents overlook the role front-line managers play in the success of the initiative.  They also claim that HR professionals fail to develop in front-line managers the exact actions they need to take to make the changes happen. The main take away from Leonard and Coltea is the need to invest the time and the resources to achieve front-line manager support to a level where they drive the change as if they themselves made the decision. 

Other reasons why change initiatives fail include: 

  • The lack of a clearly communicated strategy to stakeholders such as employees and customers. 
  • The lack of support and buy-in by key organizational leaders. Even if the change initiative is small in scope, senior leaders must be aware of it, understand why it is important to the organization as a whole, and “own” it as if the decision is in the best interests of their own employees.
  •  Senior leaders’ failure to understand the change initiative’s relevance and the failure to measure the change initiative’s progress.
  • The lack of sufficient technology to implement and sustain the change initiative. 
  • The lack of positive and transparent reinforcement.
  • A lack of understanding about how the change will actually impact employees.

Failed change management initiatives can reduce employee productivity and morale and increase employee turnover. HR professionals can play a vital role in ensuring that change management initiatives succeed by getting onboard early in the planning process. HR can ensure that all employees—from front-line to senior leadership levels—have the skills and abilities needed to embrace the necessary changes, can help communicate the change initiative strategy to employees, and can make sure that employee reward and recognition is properly aligned.

Steps HR Can Take to Improve the Success Rate of a Change Initiative

  1. Obtain executive sponsorship.
  2. Identify the right change agents.
  3. Conduct a stakeholder analysis.
  4. Develop a communication plan.
  5. Pilot the change initiative


Change initiatives too often fail because not enough attention is paid to managing “the people” side of change. Many people naturally resist change—but that does not mean they won’t support it. HR professionals can help employees cope with and embrace change initiatives by establishing ownership for how the change will be managed, creating a clear vision, having open and early communication, and creating genuinely curious and robust feedback mechanisms.

Click to Download Full White Paper

Topics: change management