It might not surprise you that when we talked to 300 leaders and asked about the biggest issue they’re facing, they responded overwhelmingly that leading or coping with change is their prime concern.

A whopping 70% of change initiatives fail, various researchers suggest, which means a huge amount of wasted money, time, resources, and effort. If we could get that failure rate down to 50 or even 60%, that would be a significant improvement.

But when we look at the current proposed solutions, we often encounter generic approaches. If you think about it, that’s kind of ridiculous. How can the approach for implementing change in widely divergent cultures — from Silicon Valley to academia to manufacturing —be so uniform?

We set out to see if we could determine the characteristics that define the most and least successful change initiatives within an organization. Through our research, we found 28 core items that are predictive of successful change. Next we partnered with 20 diverse clients to see if we could identify patterns for success and failure.

By surveying at least 70 people in each organization about a recent change effort at work, and having them rank these 28 aspects of change, we quickly saw the trends we were looking for.

It turns out that each organization has its own fingerprint. Participants repeatedly identified the same things that did or didn’t happen in the most and least successful change efforts in their organization.

If leaders knew their organization’s unique change equation, we hypothesized, they could considerably improve their likelihood of successful change.


An example of an organization’s change equation.

I decided to test this hypothesis within my own organization. Of the colleagues we surveyed, the most popular response said that successful change initiatives consulted the people who would implement the change early in the process. Participants ranked “The people who would enact the change felt a sense of ownership for it” second.

Once I saw what characterized successful change at my own organization, I started more frequently involving people at the start of change initiatives, and finding ways inspire ownership. Suddenly, implementing changes at my work started to feel easier. It was like I had a tailwind behind me, pushing me forward.

We can do the same thing for you and your organization. With our quick survey and analysis, we can tell you what patterns exist in your organization. We want to deliver the largest potential impact in the least amount of time. Within just a few hours together, our organization-specific approach can illuminate your change equation.

We did identify some overarching patterns. Certain organizations are more task-oriented and rely on centralized power, while others are relationship-oriented or have decentralized power. While there is still variance between organizations in these categories, we’ve found overlap between groups that fall into the same quadrants illustrated below.

Leaders are often unaware of which quadrant their organizational culture exists within. That means that when they try to implement change, they may be trying to rely on decentralized power in a task-oriented way — like we see in Silicon Valley-style companies — when their organization runs on centralized power and relationships, more like a sportswear company.

Not surprisingly, my organization’s culture falls in the bottom right quadrant. If someone immersed in a more top-down, top left culture tried to initiate change at my organization without realizing its unique change equation, fingerprint, and priorities, they likely wouldn’t succeed.

And the same is true at your organization. If leaders can see this big picture and understand the unique organizational change equation, they can dramatically increase the likelihood of successful change at work. We’d like to help you get there.

If you want to learn your organization’s change equation, contact Nick Petrie to get started.

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