The Number One Reason Why Business Change Fails and How To Fix This

24th April 2021Change Management


A staggering 70% of business change programmes end in failure. Dig deeper and you’ll find that the number one reason why business change fails is people and not process.

This short article will help you to understand the people issues that derail change management.

Plus, give you practical tips to anticipate and overcome them so that your business change programme stays on track and stays the course.

Business change means people change

Let’s be clear. Business change does not take place in a vacuum.

Regardless of the change methodology deployed, it succeeds or fails because of people.


Now, we’re not denying that it’s important to have a change management process in place.

Or that business change often involves implementing new operating systems and organisational structures.

But before getting to work on changing systems (the “what”) or changing processes (the “how”), you first have to change peoples’ mindsets (the “why”).

This is where change management goes from “method” to “messy”.

Because every change that you make ultimately involves people:

  • Those that lead change
  • Those that have to implement change
  • And those that are directly or indirectly impacted by change

Contrary to popular belief, focussing on the “what” and the “how” does not make business change happen.

No matter how good your systems, processes, and tools, if you don’t start with “why”, your business transformation is unlikely to succeed.

That’s because you need people to actively buy in, get on board and positively embrace change.

The top reasons why business change fails

When Stratify conducted a study on change together with the Harvard Business Review, they asked survey participants to create a list of reasons why business change fails.

The chart below shows that it wasn’t lack of process, lack of tools, lack of budget, or even lack of time that caused business change to fail.


Participants ranked poor communication (62%), insufficient leadership and support (54%), organisational politics (50%), lack of understanding of the purpose of the change (50%), lack of user buy-in (42%), and lack of collaboration (40%) as the most critical issues.

These are all issues that Stratify’s CEO Leo Arrussy terms “human problems”.

In other words, a failure on the part of the business to explain why people need to change and to get them excited about change.

If you’ve been around change for as long as we have, you’ll have often heard leaders acknowledge that the critical success factor for change management is people.

Moreover, we’ve all observed situations where people actively resist or even sabotage business transformations.

In fact, people don’t like change has become a well-worn cliché.

The truth of course is slightly different:

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed”

Peter Senge, System Scientist and Author

Forcing change upon people, whether in business or other walks of life, creates resistance.

By contrast, actively involving people in all aspects of change from inception to completion creates positive momentum and sustained progress.

How to engage and motivate your people as you change your business

Our real-life experience of both failure and success has taught us these 5 lessons on bringing your people with you on your business transformation journey:

1. Tell a Compelling Story


Successful change management starts with your “why”.

It’s important to recognise that the reason for change must engage people emotionally as well as rationally.

Moreover, the impetus for change needs to come from within your organisation as opposed to being imposed from the top or by outsiders.

Ideally, you will involve people from as many areas of your business and from different layers in your hierarchy to develop the rationale for change as well as shape the change message itself.

Working this way, you “co-create” your story, activate your change agents, and set yourself up for positive engagement.

As you prepare your story, bear in mind that purely rational arguments – such as presenting data or business cases – won’t on their own persuade people to embrace change.

Your change story matters.

So, you have to make sure it wins hearts as well as minds.

People need to understand not just why the business change is necessary but how it will impact them on a personal level.

You must be clear on the efforts required to make the change and how you will support your people to successfully navigate through it.

Above all, your story is an opportunity to allay fears and get people excited about the future.

2. Engage in active two-way communication


Your compelling story needs to be told – repeatedly and not just by the CEO or the Senior Management Team.

Not only must you cascade the case for change down your organisation structure. You must also actively seek feedback from every level of the organisation.

So, set aside sufficient time for regular face to face and/or remote communication sessions.

In these sessions, encourage input on ways to improve the change process and, where possible, act on them.

As the Harvard Business Review notes, it can be useful to get people talking about “enablers” and “blockers”.

Some organisations are wary of talking about “blockers” because they fear that this will lead to negativity and reinforcement of people’s natural discomfort with having to change.

However, bringing anxieties and concerns out into the open enables them to be acknowledged and addressed.  

Moreover, the most effective way of doing this is to transition into a discussion on the “enablers” of change.

At this point, be sure to solicit positive ideas from those most affected by the change programme. This acts as a catalyst to move mindsets from negativity and opposition to positivity and support.

Finally, don’t underestimate the time needed for people to buy in to change. And the need for constant communication and authentic engagement from leaders and managers.

If you fail to enlist the active participation of the majority of your people at the outset, your change programme is unlikely to gain traction.

3. Review progress frequently and collaboratively


Once the change process is underway, it’s important to keep the communication going through regular reviews and updates.

Change management takes time – generally much more time than even your change management leaders anticipate.

So, it’s important to sustain a sense of momentum.

To do this, you should identify and target some “quick wins” that you can share early in the transformation process.

These demonstrate not only that the business change has got off to a strong start but also give confidence that the efforts being expended are not going to waste.

However, at some point your transformation is likely to run into headwinds.

At this point, it is important to keep communicating and continue engaging.

Frequent two-way feedback sessions help you to understand what’s not working and why. This enables you to reframe, reset and refresh.

In the final analysis, change management is a marathon and not a sprint. Success builds over time, but only if you keep moving forward.

4. Help people to move out of their comfort zones


Business change only happens through people change.

Not necessarily by bringing new people into the organisation – although this can sometimes be desirable – but by developing the capabilities needed by all employees for success in the future.

Change often alters the working environment and sometimes even the very nature of the work itself.

This is disconcerting. Change forces people to give up tasks that they excel at and learn new, unfamiliar ways of working.

For change to succeed people must move out of their comfort zones.

Naturally, few people enjoy going from an expert to a novice.

So, you simply have to invest not only in employee engagement to change behaviours and mindsets, but also in training and coaching to increase competence and confidence in using the new systems, processes and tools that the business transformation is bringing about.

This old adage holds true:

“You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s tools”

Finally, don’t fall into the trap of simply focusing on building technical skills.

Coach and train relentlessly on the soft skills that will help your people to become more adaptable and agile in today’s constantly changing business environment.

5. Celebrate the wins


Change may be constant but that doesn’t make it any less challenging.

It pays therefore to accentuate the positive progress being made by:

  • Highlighting team achievements
  • Recognising individual contributions
  • Rewarding significant breakthroughs
  • Celebrating the attainment of major milestones

Lastly, before business change moves into “business as usual”, take time to recognise what you as an organisation have learned through succeeding where so many others have failed.

Not only will you have changed your business, but you will also have changed your people.

They will be more committed, agile and, most importantly, open to your next change initiative.

In Summary

We hope that you’ve found this article interesting and insightful.

Chris Dunn Consulting helps you to find new ways to grow and evolve – both by boosting your existing business and by adding new revenue streams.

In our eyes, business development is inextricably linked to business change. You cannot succeed at one without the other.

Over the years, we’ve carried out more than 30 individual business change and business development projects.

An essential foundation for success is the transfer of our knowledge to your people so that they acquire new capabilities and become comfortable with new ways of working.

For more information, please see our case studies. 

If you need support to help your organisation to change and grow, please don’t hesitate to contact us at any time.

Finally, thank you for reading this article.

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You may also like to read about the 3 most important business changes happening this year.