Newsletter No 5. November 2007

Welcome to our last issue for 2007. We will be sending out the next issue in January, to welcome in the new year. In this issue we discuss the 5 most common reasons why change fails. In the next issue we’ll talk about what you can do about that and how to ensure that any change you are implementing has a better chance to succeed.

This is to do with our belief that often change is done in a way that is toxic for an organisation and for the people in that organisation. That is also why change is often not sustainable. We’ve been looking for a way to describe a non-toxic type of change and have come up with self-esteem-full – a change that allows people to keep their self-esteem intact. Certainly something to aim for, isn’t it. What do you think? A bit of a mouthful perhaps – if you’ve got any suggestions please do let us know here.

In this issue:

The LASA Team

Latest thinking

The 5 Most Common Reasons Why Change Fails

Why is it that most change programmes fail to achieve their objectives? Why don’t they survive beyond implementation (if they get that far)? Research proves that roughly 70% of all change initiatives fail regardless of sector. Experience shows that the five main reasons for failure are:

  • Communications: insufficient, not the right sort and not to the right people;
  • Plans are cast in concrete – once set, they will not be changed - and they do not take the larger system (within which the change occurs) into account;
  • Change is imposed from above without buy-in of those affected;
  • The change process is seen as linear, rather than iterative;
  • Insufficient thought is given to sustainability and next steps.

The costs can be enormous, not just in wasted money, but in de-motivated teams and even damage to your reputation or to your product.

Look at each of these problems in turn

1) Communications

Almost the first thing you hear from people is that they feel like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed ‘rubbish’. They want to know more, they want transparency. No matter how well you think you are communicating, or how often, people just aren’t satisfied. So what can you do? Consider not just how often you communicate, but – remembering that it is a two-way process - with whom you communicate, the way you communicate and the methods you use. Different people need different kinds of communication and in different amounts or frequencies. Do you know all of the people with whom you should communicate? Have you done an extensive stakeholder mapping, keeping the larger system in mind? From your stakeholder mapping, you can identify groups of people and think through what KIND of communication they need, how OFTEN it should be and via what sort of medium you should send it. Different individuals have different preferences as well, so a mix of media is always a good idea.

2) Plans

When change initiatives fail, the second thing you discover is that plans are cast in concrete and do not take the larger system into account. Whatever change programme you are implementing, it is part of a larger system. There are many more people and parts of the organisation (if not other organisations) who are affected by what you will be doing differently, not only the people in your team. It is useful to consider not just who these people and organisations might be, but also how that might affect your plans. What impact might they have on the programme? Can they be an obstacle to the programme? Can they help you? How might you encourage their help?

Plans need to be flexible. That is, for the very near term, you may be quite clear about what you will do, but as soon as you approach the medium term, you will need to test where you are and see if adjustments need to be made. This requires extra thinking at the front end of the programme – how will you know that you are on track? What do you need to see that tells you? Use a simple ‘Plan/Do/Check/Act’ cycle: Plan what you are going to do, Do it, evaluate how well it has gone and Check if you are where you need to be; re-plan the next steps (for it usually is re-planning) and go for it, DO it – Act - and go around the cycle again.

3) Change is imposed

Frequently, change is imposed from above and that is all that there is. Buy-in is not sought or it is not achieved. People are told what to do and how to do it. However, to get buy-in, you need to allow people the freedom and creativity to have input into the process. The best way to do that is to make sure that those who are affected by the change are involved – have a say – in how it happens. Business is not a democracy – we make a decision about a strategic direction for instance, and that decision is made by you or by you and your leadership team. But, unless there are good reasons, if you allow people to work with you on HOW the change will be made, you are more likely to achieve buy-in, motivation and pro-activity. This probably feels quite risky – after all, how do you know you can trust people to do what needs to be done? It means you have to share not only the direction you need to go in, but also the constraints…

4) The change process is seen as linear rather than iterative…

There are many different models of change to choose from, but they are only a guide. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model. Whatever model you use, you will need to continually monitor where you are in that model. You are working on change for a whole system, not just your particular unit. Whatever changes you are working towards in your unit have an impact on the larger system of which your unit is a part and in turn that larger system has an impact on your unit. You need to keep that in mind during your planning and when you monitor to see where you are. This tells you what you need to do next. For instance, you could be working with a smaller unit within your larger unit and people are being very resistant. By monitoring where you are on your model, you may discover that despite having communicated with everyone the reasons for the change, you need to go back to the beginning and enquire into what is happening for this particular group of people to cause the resistance you are observing.

You may be humming along quite nicely and suddenly the programme hits an obstacle. Again, by looking at where you are in your model and what you need to do to move forward, you can ‘un-stick’ the programme. Don’t go in with pre-conceived notions about what you should be doing next – this is a time to ask questions and listen to the answers.

5) Not enough thought given to future sustainability and next steps…

How will you know that this change is ‘sticking’? What benefits will you see? What will people be doing? What will they have stopped doing? How will they be behaving? What will your customers say?

Frequently organisations finish the implementation, then just stop feeding energy in and things go back to the way they were, the change is not sustained. It needs to become embedded in the ‘way we do things now’ through repetition to redevelop new ‘habits’ for several weeks, even months. This is not to say that sustainable change requires continual energy, but it does require that attention is paid to the change at the individual’s level - that questions are asked of stakeholders on how things are going for them and that learning is captured and shared.

Then there is always the question of ‘what next.’ An agile organisation is one that responds to its environment. Whatever change you are implementing is around a business issue – has the change solved the issue, or do you need to do more (or different) work on it? Has the issue gone away? Has another issue arisen? What are your next steps? How do you maintain and sustain the change?

�Patricia Lustig, 2006

Latest Books

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organisation.

By Peter Senge, Charlotte Roberts, Richard Ross, Bryan Smith and Art Kleiner.

This is not a recent book, but it is one that I use often when designing a change intervention – and frankly find much more useful than Senge’s 1990 book, The Fifth Discipline. As a pragmatic person, I want to know what works and while theory interests me, it is how I can apply it that excites me. I use this much as I would a recipe book – have a browse through it, see what piques my interest (bearing in mind the intervention that I’m considering), remind myself of what is being discussed and then think about how it will work for the particular client and what might need some tweaking.

I especially appreciate the systems thinking aspect of the work. We are taught to solve problems by dissecting and breaking things down into component parts. While this might work for simple problems, it does not work with complex issues in my experience – these must be seen in terms of the system(s) of which they are a part. Organisational change is a complex activity and needs to be seen from many angles. To help to make it sustainable, this book contains a treasure trove of ideas to try as you work through a change in your organisation.

IT Corner


You may have noticed in last month’s newsletter that we use a strange web address that did not lead to where it seemed to be pointing. This was a link using Tinyurl. is a web service that provides the conversion of very long URLs that would take several lines in an email to a simple reference to their site, they convert one into the other. To use it you can just enter the long URL on their web site and they will give you a tiny equivalent, or if you need to do it frequently you can download a toolbar and then all you have to do is when you’re at the place you want to forward to people, you press the Tinyurl button and you get your Tinyurl

On web pages, URLs that are very long can destroy the layout. Why show the URL, why not just click here; that will allow people to print off the page and still be able to get the important information i.e. where to go on the web. If you are clever and can use Cascading Style Sheets you could get the ‘click here’ to be the URL when printed. Be careful though, as this does not work in email.

Interesting Links

Flower Seed Photo – Flower seed. August 2007 �PMLustig

Latest News from LASA

  • Tricia continued to tutor the Henley Facilitation Certificate, the second day was based on the competences of a facilitator. See for more information.
  • Nic began work on a contact database for a local charity
  • Tricia completed a course on The Human Element, based on work by Will Schutz. It is an Advanced Emotional Intelligence Programme which provides an integrated, powerful and simple approach to understanding and working with the human aspects of work.


A little fun as we approach the end of the year – some quotes from Groucho Marx…

"With a little study you’ll go a long ways, and I wish you’d start now." (Monkey Business)

"Why don’t you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out?"
(Horse Feathers)

"You’re just wasting your breath, and that’s no great loss either."
(Monkey Business)

"I could dance with you till the cows come home…But I’d rather dance with the cows till you come home."
(Duck Soup)

"Go and never darken my towels again!"
(Duck Soup)

… oh the joys of the Marx brothers and the laughter they bring us!

Joke corner

These are actual quotes taken from US federal government employee performance evaluations:

1. "Since my last report, this employee has reached rock-bottom and has started to dig."

2. "I would not allow this employee to breed."

3. "This employee is really not so much of a has-been, but more of a definite won't be."

4. "Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap."

5. "When he opens his mouth, it seems that it is only to change feet."

6. "This young lady has delusions of adequacy."

7. "He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them."

8. "This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot."

9. "This employee should go far, and the sooner he starts the better."

10. "Got a full 6-pack, but lacks the plastic thingy to hold it all together."

11. "A gross ignoramus - 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus."

12. "He doesn't have ulcers, but he's a carrier."

14. "I would like to go hunting with him sometime."

15. "He's been working with glue too much."

16 "He would argue with a signpost."

17. "He brings a lot of joy whenever he leaves the room."

18. "When his IQ reaches 50, he should sell."

19. "If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he's the other one."

20. "A photographic memory but with the lens cover glued on."

21. "A prime candidate for natural de-selection."

22. "Donated his brain to science before he was done using it."

23. "Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn't coming."

24. "He's got two brains cells, one is lost and the other is out looking for it."

25. "If he were any more stupid, he'd have to be watered twice a week."

26. "If you give him a penny for his thoughts, you'd get change."

27. "If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean."

28. "It's hard to believe he beat out 1,000,000 other sperm."

29. "One neuron short of a synapse."

30. "Some drink from the fountain of knowledge; he only gargled."

31. "Takes him 2 hours to watch 60-minutes."

32. "The wheel is turning, but the hamster is dead.”

LASA Website

If this interests you, there are other interesting resources on the LASA Insight website so why not take a look by going to

Comments and Feedback

If you have any comments or feedback on - or suggestions for - this newsletter then please email them to us  here

@Patricia Lustig 2008