It’s well reported that the majority of transformation programmes fail to deliver their intended outcomes.

Whether it’s the 70% commonly attributed to Kotter, Harvard Business Review’s 78%, Forbes 84% or any of the other reported failure rates, the consensus seems to be that – more often than not – we don’t get the results we wanted.

What’s really interesting is that companies are always confident that they will be in the successful 16% to 30% when they embark on transformation. In once sense, that’s not a surprise – no one would set out expecting failure. But if everyone believes they will be in the successful minority, I wonder who they think will be in the unsuccessful majority?

I think there are a number of assumptions that leadership teams make that contribute to this confidence against the odds:

Commitment: A vision for a brighter future, a strong belief in the need for change and recognition that ‘business as usual’ is no longer fit for purpose are all essential ingredients for transformation – but they don’t guarantee buy in and commitment across the business and throughout the rollercoaster of transformation programmes.

Skills: Brilliant people who are deeply committed to your organisation’s future vision and will work hard to implement transformation activities are also essential…but that doesn’t make them experts at designing and driving change. Business change is critical but complicated and so needs careful handling.

Time: You have to start somewhere when it comes to defining time budgets for programmes, but these are really no more than a best guess. More often that not, other issues and situations will arise that will steal time and focus from your transformation programme, even when you have a dedicated delivery team. It may take more than x calendar months to make x months of expected progress.

Foresight: It’s critical to plan programmes and mitigate risks robustly, yet activities here tend to focus on what is already known. The reality is that you don’t know what you don’t know yet and it’s likely that these future surprises will have an impact on your ability to deliver the required results on time and on budget.

So how can you increase the likelihood of remaining in the successful minority? Here are some suggestions:

✅ Look at what other companies have faced in similar transformation programmes and assume you are more similar than you think. What can you learn from their findings, experience and results?

✅ Avoid over-optimistic programme planning:

  • Assume you have less time than you think to dedicate to the programme
  • Assume the budget won’t go as far as you think
  • Assume that risks will arise that you haven’t yet thought of

✅ Focus on critical success factors – what really matters on day one – and keep a laser focus on this throughout your programme

✅ Start thinking about business change from the outset

✅ Consider engaging a transformation specialist who can broaden your perspective, challenge your assumptions and keep you focused on your business case.

Cara Halliwell is the Director of CE Change Ltd, a consultancy that specialises in helping leadership teams deliver successful transformations. For further information about the services we offer, click here.