Three reasons why organizational change fails

Find out why your organization's transformation may not be working.

Steffan Surdek
September 27, 2021
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Like many leaders, you have probably tried to undergo an organizational change. You usually start off being excited and enthusiastic. But then, some challenges get in the way of the transformation.

Slowly the daily workload takes centre stage. Your teams become disengaged or frustrated. Your transformation project seems to be having little to no impact. And then the change sputters to a halt. Does any of this seem familiar?

In this article, I will talk about the key things that can get in the way of your organizational transformation's success.

What is an organizational transformation?

First, let's define what I mean when I talk about an organizational transformation. As a leader, you are trying to bring something new. It is often something that drastically changes the way people are working.

For example, it could be changing work processes or the mode of software delivery. It is something that you are trying to do and that impacts more than just your team.

It implicates many aspects of the business and teams that need to collaborate to do it together. And that is often where things go sour.

Let's dive into the three reasons that can cause change to fail.

Reason #1: Lack of clarity and communication

Let me illustrate this point with a quick story. In one of my talks, I begin by talking about the first time that I was part of an organizational transformation.

Some years ago while I was working in IT, we were having problems with the quality of our product. Our managers needed to make big changes because our clients were not happy.

One day our managers got our team to gather in a big room. They crossed their arms, they nodded their head and said, "Congratulations. You are now Agile." That was it! End of discussion.

The team looked at them and we said, "Well, what do you mean we are Agile?" They had no answer to that question. They did not know what it was supposed to look like, so of course they could not communicate it. They were hoping that it would get done by magic.

People may say they want change, but they are not clear around what it means and how it will happen. And if it is not clear for the leaders, the people on their teams are left to their own devices.

What do you think happened in this story? We were all too busy to figure it out by ourselves. So we just forgot and waited for it to pass, and the change ended up not happening.

Reason #2: Not getting your team on board

Often, leaders are so focused on getting their change done that they dive right into it without onboarding teams early. This sets the transformation up for failure right from the start.

When I started off as a consultant, I found it tough. People did not understand the change we were trying to make. So it fell apart at the seams. I realized all of a sudden that teams see this as a separate project and are often not informed of it before it is placed right in front of them.

So they keep their heads down and try to get on with their day-to-day work. They do not have time for the other project or this extra thing that you are asking them to do. They hope the transformation project will just go away.

When you are a manager or a leader, you usually see the change in a certain way. There is what you want, and then there is what the teams on the ground are actually going to produce.

This is why it is crucial to get your teams involved and engaged as soon as possible around the change you want to create.

Reason #3: Leadership's resistance to change

Some leaders believe that only their teams need to change. Other times they do not even realize they are resisting change. They do not realize that as a leader, you need to change too. This is why as a leader, your personal development is so crucial.

Otherwise, it is a lack of intentionality that sometimes dooms the change. You need to be clear and intentional around the change you want to make. How will you adapt your way of talking and acting with your employees? You will need to change your paradigms for it to work.

This is the difference between just trying to apply a management trend and wanting an actual transformation. Organizational change cannot succeed without leadership support.

Read more on this topic in our article about the three secrets to lasting change.


Organizational change is about how you can get everyone inside the company clear around what you want to do.

It does not have to be perfect, but you need to have a good sense of where you are trying to go. You need to get your teams on board as soon as possible and communicate the benefits of the change.

As a leader, you must champion the change for the rest of the organization, in both what you say and do. If you are not prepared to be actively involved, perhaps it is not the right time for you to launch a major change effort.

What are some of the challenges that you face when it comes to your organizational transformation? Knowing this, how will you address them?