Why 70% of All Changes Fail
BY RICK MAURER
NEARLY 70 PERCENT OF ALL THE
changes in organizations fail—and IT
is not immune from that alarming
statistic. Every day, good ideas die
before they ever get started, and organizations go through the motions of
adopting a new system but actually
keep using their old system.
Obviously, all these failures are
costly, but they are more than that.
Repeated failures can kill an IT
department’s reputation. This happened frequently in the past, when
IT professionals overwhelmed clients with technical jargon and got
them to agree to implement things
they didn’t understand.
When the dust settled, many of
those projects failed. In the 1990s,
enterprise resource planning had a
9 percent success rate in large organizations. You read that correctly—the
failure rate was a whopping 91 percent. Understandably, these failures
left a bitter taste in the mouths of
potential users of IT services.
Savvy technology departments
have learned from those mistakes.
Here are three actions that can help
IT leaders build support for their
ideas and projects:
2. Listen and learn.
Smart IT leaders are willing to be
influenced. They realize that the
internal clients are the real experts
when it comes to what they need. The
clients may not know what to ask for
in terms of process, but they usually
know what they want to have happen
differently as a result of all this effort.
When IT folks listen intently and
become interested in their clients’
1. Speak so they’ll understand you.
Smart IT professionals don’t make the
client speak computerese. Instead,
they use plain everyday speech. This
helps internal customers understand
your project and become engaged in
Here’s a case in point: For many
years, I had an accountant who talked in accountant-speak. I called him
once a year at tax time. There were
other times when I could have used
his advice or services, but it was simply too hard to communicate in that
“foreign” language, so I found other
people to help me.
3. It’s the people who matter.
Smart IT leaders know that technical changes start and end with
people. This is perhaps the biggest
mistake professionals in technical
fields such as IT, accounting and
engineering make. They believe in
their ideas and assume that a good
idea and a sound plan will prevail.
But that’s not enough.
Of course, IT managers know
that people matter, but their actions
sometimes tell a different story. Some
IT professionals inundate people
with PowerPoint slides but let their
listeners be involved for only a few
minutes during the Q&A at the end
of the meeting.
IT professionals who understand
how to build support for their ideas
and programs know that their technical proficiency is only table stakes: It
just gets them into the game. To win
the World Series of IT, these technology pros must also know how to work
By communicating with their clients, IT leaders can find out why
people resist change and why they
support it. They can predict how
the mere mention of a new enter-prisewide system is likely to go over
in a specific organization. And they
know how to use that knowledge to
create strategies that build support
Change is difficult, but it's not
impossible. IT professionals who
understand that the soft stuff is really the hard stuff get more of their
fears about—and hopes for—the project, the clients begin to trust the IT
team. They feel understood, and so
their trust in IT goes up. They appreciate the fact that these tech-savvy
professionals will take the time to
listen—and to explain.
The willingness to listen to and be
influenced by others may sound simple, but it’s the foundation on which
business relationships are built. The
clients trust that you won’t try to
sell them a solution they don’t need.
Consequently, when you do have an
idea that could help their productivity or their bottom line, they are far
more willing to give you the benefit
of the doubt.
Rick Maurer is a change management
expert, speaker and adviser. He is also
the author of Beyond the Wall of
Resistance: Why 70% of All Changes
Still Fail—and What You Can Do