Do 70% of change projects really fail?

There is a much repeated statement in business at the moment that 70% of change management projects fail.

70% fail to change*

Wow!

If after all this time and focus on managing change projects as still 70% failure, what’s going on?

I teach a session for various corporate clients on implementing change, and I’ve seen this statistic quite a bit, and I’m revising an upcoming session and looking for a motivator to get people to pay attention to the session.

I was going to start the session with TWO IN THREE CHANGE PROJECTS FAIL… HERE”S HOW YOU CAN SUCCEED.

Powerful motivation to kick start the session, or so I thought.

But, hey, consultants and professionals have been sharing and using and teaching the change management approach I use for many years and change still fails? I’d better do some digging to ensure I’m presenting the right information.

So, let just have a look at some of the headline statements (* above) on this subject from some of the most influential sources of business information:

  • McKinsey and Company … A recent survey of business executives indicates that the percent of change programs that are a success today is… still 30%.
  • IBM … Nearly 60 percent of projects aimed at achieving business change do not fully meet their objectives.
  • Harvard Business Review … The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.
  • Forbes/Towers Watson … A new study by Towers Watson has found that only 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term.
  • Connor Partners … Change practitioners have some culpability for the atrocious 70% failure rate of change initiatives.

So there we have it … proof … it must be true! Between 60% and 70% of Change initiatives fail? Wow!

Is it a myth?

But where did this much repeated 70% statistic come from?  Is it supported by hard facts/real evidence? 

Most authorities track their statement back to 1996 – John P. Kotter, Leading Change why transformational efforts fail, published in the Harvard Business Review.

But what Kotter actually wrote was…

“Over the past decade, I have watched more than 100 companies try to remake themselves into significantly better competitors. … in almost every case, the basic goal has been the same: to make fundamental changes in how business is conducted in order to help cope with a new, more challenging market environment. A few of these corporate change efforts have been very successful. A few have been utter failures. Most fall somewhere in between, with a distinct tilt toward the lower end of the scale.”

No 70% there… lets go back further.

Hammer and Champy Re-engineering the Corporation, 1993,

“Sadly, we must report that despite the success stories described in previous chapters, many companies that begin reengineering don’t succeed at it…Our unscientific estimate is that as many as 50 percent to 70 percent of the organizations that undertake a reengineering effort do not achieve the dramatic results they intended.”

OK here’s the 70% figure for the first time.  And its been around ever since.

Yes its a myth!

Why?

Well “70% failure” warning sells consulting services… don’t use our consultancy you will FAIL, 70% fail, use us to be one of the successful ones.

So what’s actually happening?

According to McKinsey (who still promote this idea as we saw in the title picture) their actual data show something different.

mckinsey-global-transformation-survey-2008

Out of 2,314 surveyed, only 128 weren’t successful at all 6%…

… and 55% were disappointing. But certainly there’s no 70% failure.  Which seems to show that since industry focused on making change more effective, it certainly has worked.  Fewer and fewer change processes fail..

So I can’t use the 70% failure as a motivation, but I’m going to use… How can YOUR change process avoid failure, only 5% of change processes are extremely successful.

Oh well that’s marketing for you.