Major failure on change initiatives - what's going on?

by Human Capital02 Oct 2012

Has your change initiative come undone? You are not alone. Only 38% of employees believe that major change initiatives within their organisation are well managed and help the organisation to deliver better business results, according to a recent study.

Furthermore, according to Aon Hewitt’s study of over 75,000 employees in Australia and New Zealand*, little more than half (56%) of senior managers, those who should be driving organisational change, believe major change initiatives are well managed. “With the amount of restructures, M&A activity and change initiatives happening in today’s market, it is concerning that organisations are still failing to execute organisational change well and in a way that is seen to be improving business performance,” commented Aon Hewitt’s Tim Powell, talent & rewards practice leader, Pacific.



Manager capability clearly affects the success of change management programs. Aon Hewitt’s research of perceptions across hierarchal levels shows that the further down the hierarchical structure the messaging travels, the less successful its delivery.

“Change efforts typically fail when insufficient attention is given to the people elements of the program. Organisations need to take a holistic approach to driving behaviour change across their workforce. This includes the capability and capacity to change the way people work, the adjustment of processes and policies to reflect the new environment, and implementation of rewards and recognition programs that encourage and support the new ways of working. Measures also need to be put in place to track progression towards key outcomes of the change.” Powell added.


Despite this, only half (51%) of those with senior management positions believe their leaders do a good job of helping them to understand the reasons for organisational change, and provide guidance on the desired outcomes. Success falls to 43% at the next level down (team leaders / supervisors), with only 32% of professional employees (non-managers) feeling their senior leaders are doing a job of helping them understand the reasons for organisational change.

Stephen Hickey, employee engagement practice lead, Aon Hewitt, added that irrespective of the ‘change trigger’, which could be an M&A, change in strategy or a restructure, changing behaviours lies at the core of a well-executed change program.

“Our research continues to show that behaviour change is only really possible if people have the right understanding, emotions, ability and intent. An organisation must have all four of those elements in abundance across the organisation to accelerate the achievement of change outcomes,” he said.

Hickey outlined what employers should be doing to address each element:


Understanding – employees need to have the right direction and business case of where the organisation is going, how change fits into business goals, and also what’s required of them through the change process. Practical, specific and attainable goals right through the change process is critical.

Emotions – emotions are often the fuel of behavior change, so with the right level of passion and excitement and identity around the change, intended outcomes are greatly accelerated. Clear direction and overcoming resistance to the change is critical.

Ability – people must have the ability to do what’s required of them through the change process. It’s not just about skill and ability, it’s also about organisational capability and capacity to enable change. People must have a clear path forward.

Intent – employees need to have the intent and motivation to change. In many ways this is the final result of understanding emotion and ability – then people need to have the intention to do what is required of them, and also to stop doing certain things that are no longer required of them.

Regardless of the change type, Hickey noted there are five fundamental principles that must be adhered to:


  • Starting the conversation – initiating the change process by understanding the strategic intent and expected outcomes of the change. This is a conversation must be had amongst business leaders.
  • Setting objectives and mobilising the core team around that. This is where an organisation will set change specific objectives, set critical outcomes and measures that will then be tracked right the way through the change process.
  • Understanding the current position – this is where qualitative and quantitative data is used to assess the most impacted stakeholder groups from the change and assess gaps between current and future stages. An important consideration at this third step is that organisations should be identifying the drivers that will have the biggest impact on achieving the outcomes of the change.
  • Implementation and execution of the plan. This requires a focus on the variety of change levers that are at the disposal of the organisation: leadership alignment, stakeholder management, ongoing measurement against change outcomes, managing capability and capacity of people to change, and aligning rewards and consequences.
  • Creating a continuous feedback loop. Continually assessing progress against the change outcomes that were identified in step two and then course correcting as required. Feedback sessions should be continuously conducted with the most impacted and influential stakeholders of the change process.



*Source: Aon Hewitt Australia and New Zealand engagement database (April 2011 to March 2012)


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