I really believe that more than 70% of change fails to achieve its goals.
In fact, my former business partner ennis Vergne proved it in his research. He studied ten major change programmes for his MSc — in each, over 40 jobs disappeared or completely changed.
Every single ‘change intervention’ — meeting, training, newsletter, Town Hall meeting, briefing, etc — was categorised and analysed.
- Seven out of ten failed. In those programmes, changed was about 80% top-down, structural, directive.
- Only three succeeded. In those programmes, change was about 70% bottom-up, emergent, driven by the people doing the work.
You can analyse your attempts at change — what’s the balance between directive, top-down and emergent, bottom-up?
Or you can focus on defining more clearly the *actual* requirements from the change, the must-haves and must-nots — and giving real freedom to those affected to define the answers within those boundaries.
What sort of change approach do you see around you? What do you see working? Failing?
I’d love to hear your reflections on this thinking about organisational change!
There’s a lot more to be said about this, but I’ll just say
- we suspect that this is because most change is complex/social, and is poorly served by a programmatic approach
- the ‘three box model’ (see https://www.linkedin.com/posts/antlerboy_redquadrant-the-three-box-model-activity-6747423779552661504-pOiZ) is a brilliant tool to optimise the balance between top-down and bottom-up — because in any traditional organisation, there’s always going to be this kind of balance.
By the way, 95% top-down and 95% bottom-up change were *so* disastrous that they didn’t it into the full study — not enough data, as they crashed and burned very early.