Everyone recognizes the need to change, so why is it so difficult for organizations and people to embrace change? One data point that has been floating around for over 20 years is that 70% of organizational change initiatives fail. Ironically, despite the ubiquity of this "fact," it was first suggested in 1993 as nothing more than an "unscientific estimate." The reason this statistic has been repeated so often for so long is that it comes close to matching our own experiences--more specific and recent research has since found that only 54% of executives say change initiatives at their companies are adopted and sustained.
Clearly, this is a tremendous issue that defies easy solution. Every failed change initiative is not just a missed opportunity but also an expensive mistake--one study found that one of every six large IT projects go so badly that they can threaten the very existence of the company.
So how can we individually be more effective at being change agents in our personal and professional lives? First, we need to appreciate that:
There is no such thing as a change agent. That may sound odd considering I’m writing about being a better change agent, but this is a skill, not an ability. It is not something you are born with but something you can improve upon. All of us are change agents—none of us gets the luxury of waiting for others to change us, and that means we must sharpen our skills.
Being a change agent is risky: No matter how much business leaders say they want change agents, being a change agent is risky. Change agents fail, stumble in their career and can damage their reputation. We must appreciate that advocating for change entails risk, which is why it is essential we are aware of the specific risks and work to mitigate them.
People hate change. We humans like to feel safe and comfortable, and change is risky and discomforting. Successful change agents must know how to inspire people, helping them to see and embrace the benefits of change.
If we do these three things—sharpening our own skills, mitigating risks and inspiring people—we can succeed at leading change.