According to a study done by McKinsey, 73% of transformation projects fail. 1 in 5 projects fail so badly that they threaten the existence of the business. Change management has failed and every failure is accompanied by the usual explanations: lack of communication, people resistance, poor implementation, etc. So the question is why has change management failed and what if any is the alternative?

Change management has failed because it is most often a coercive initiative dressed in fancy language that is decided by a few people at the top  to make new things happen. The people impacted by the change are generally not involved in the decision making on what the change is and how it should be implemented.

The truth is that change in any organization with more than just a handful of people cannot be steered or planned with some preconceived trajectory of actions. The organization will face unknown challenges and threats and has to intercept new, emerging opportunities. Change is not like an overlay that can be imposed on a group of people to suddenly change them. Change has to be more like a cultural shift that is accepted and embraced not imposed.

Many senior managers have sort of realized this yet they keep going back to the usual change management thinking because they don’t know about any alternatives.  But there are alternatives.

1- Culture shift

Starting with a culture shift is a better way to confront the future. This can be involving staff in providing suggestions and taking more responsibility in decision making. Change that results from such activity is much more natural and “embedded” than top-down impositions.

2- Agile project management structures not fixed organizational structures

Many organizations dealing with multiple products and services have successfully used the project management model to deploy staff from different departments into flexible project teams. A new client project can now pull together experts from marketing, technical and finance  to deliver a quick solution. The benefit: a leaner organization, more staff with cross-cutting experience  for future projects and more satisfied customers.

3- Iterate and learn

The new way of managing business  transformation is not based on long-range strategy which like change management died a long time ago. Small and large organizations are now using Lean methods employed by startups to iterate the business model to discover what works and what doesn’t. Listening to customers and outside experts  matters more than opinions  and spreadsheet forecasts.