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Why Most “Change Management Efforts” Fail and How You Can Avoid This.

You and I want more. We all do. Always. There’s no escaping it; evolution engineered it into our brains.

Neurological and psychological science shows that we always want more. It is, in whole or large part, simple propagation of life. Survival.

Our old, unconscious, brains are designed as physiological survival machines.

But… Don’t we want more than mere survival?

You bet we do.

Our higher selves want to thrive. We want to make a difference and matter.

Organizational Change

Well, organizations are, first and foremost, an group of individuals. And, as with individuals, organizations also always want more.

Change management is one version of an organization's attempt to get the more they desire. That more almost always being: more effective and productive results. Typically, through systems and processes changes.

Leadership skills and other soft professional skills training encounter many of the same problems and require many of the same solutions as Change Management efforts. So  do personal development efforts. For simplicity’s sake, I will discuss only Organizational Change Management in this article.

(After you finish this article, CLICK HERE for a great video on personal development and success)

But, what's often missing from organizational change, is an appreciate of, and systems for, changes in what drives all changes in human behaviors, skills and activities.

After all, it's us human beings that must affect any change plans, right? It's us human beings, with our skills, our habits, our behaviors and actions, that successfully, or unsuccessfully, implement change.

What Got Us Here, Won't Get Us There

As the sayings goes: “to get something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done.” I'd add: we must constantly and consistently do new things. And do them at a high level. After all, no individual, and no organization, wants just marginal improvements. We want more. Much more.

So, because human beings are the drivers and agents of all desired change, it is us humans that must, first and foremost change. And, we must change the sources of all results changes: our applied skills, our habitual behaviors and the quality, quantity and frequency of our actions.

And what changes our skills and our habitual behaviors and actions?

Our deepest beliefs and our habitual feelings and emotions.

And this is what, studies show, most organizations fall woefully short of taking into account in formal change management plans.

Now, I wouldn't suggest that organizations become pseudo-psychologists or parents, but, when we ignore what drives all human behavior and action, we undercut our own desires and efforts at change and improvement.

Personal Improvements are the Engines of Organizational Improvements

Organizational improvement requires improvements in the skills and habitual behaviors and actions of its members.

Adult learning science tells us that significant adult learning and change requires that we perceive the change to be personally relevant, useful and of positive value. Otherwise, we won't invest our limited neurological energy or time to learn or change.

Changes in our skills, behaviors and habits requires fundamental changes in our psychology.

Skill and behavioral change also require a fundamental change in our neuro-biology.

Our brains must be rewired so that the chemical and neural connections and activities associated with the positive change we are after successfully connect.

Then, through repetition, we begin to rewire our brains for the new beliefs, skills, behaviors and habits.

What’s more, the brain might also need additional re-wiring. Because we often have legacy beliefs, habits and behaviors that will interfere with our desired, positive changes. So, we might need to weaken or short-circuit unwanted legacy traits.

Rewiring our own brains can be difficult.

Rewiring someone else’s brain, as is necessary in Change Management initiatives, is incredibly difficult.

So… how might an organization, or individual, successfully affect change?


We always have this one source of leverage to affect change: We all always want more. More success. More recognition. More appreciation. More safety. More growth, etc.

And more equals change.

So, it’s our job to get everyone involved to identify and feel the profound need to change and change in ways that support our organization’s vision.

Here are the most common mistakes in affecting change, followed by how we succeed in affecting change.

  1. Change goes against the inherent nature of our brains. A result of evolution over hundreds of thousands of years on the savannah where change meant possible death. This natural characteristic is subconscious. It escapes our conscious awareness.
  2. Significant behavioral change must be driven by change in our subconscious beliefs. By definition, we aren’t even consciously aware of our subconscious beliefs, much less cognizant of how we can change them.
  3. Most people view employment as a necessary means to an end (survival) and not as an integral part of to their higher actualization. As such, they are especially concerned with safety (of job) and not with change (which is dangerous to the subconscious).
  4. Because of numbers 1 through 3, people are loath to change for organizations. Not only is personal change difficult, they inherently don’t see much in it for them. As a result…
  5. We are rational players and feign change to satisfy our bosses (or we fool ourselves into thinking reading a book or attending a seminar will change us).
  6. The organization requires too little of those expected to change. The people driving the change believe that holding meetings, providing training and making the argument for change will result in change. It won’t.
    1. People change. Organizations can’t. In most change management efforts, the core drivers of personal change are never addressed and integrated into the change process. We don’t change because it’s supposedly in the best interest of an amorphous organization. We change to stay congruent with our highest selves (self-identity, purpose, values, etc).
  7. Initial change efforts are instituted, but ongoing, long-term Systems, Structures and Rituals that facilitate and force change are not set.
  8. Systems and structures are set up, but they are inadequate, incomplete, short-lived or they aren’t led from the top of the organization.
    (My first job out of business school was in Jack Welch’s GE (Capital). Welch provided brilliant examples of Culture, Systems, Structures and Rituals to facilitate and force change).
  1. All people involved in making organizational change happen must intellectually and emotionally associate highest personal actualization with the beliefs, behaviors, actions and outcomes necessary for organizational actualization, because we only make fundamental changes when we feel we MUST change in order to not violate self-identity, purpose, personal standards, values or virtues.
  2. The individuals’ and the organization’s mission/purpose and values have not been associated to and synchronized with each other. The individual must intellectually and emotionally see and feel that personal fulfillment and success in life is, in large part, tied to organizational fulfillment and success.
    • Training will be impotent if “trainees” have not consciously and unconsciously, intellectually, empirically and emotionally, identified and associated with their core self-identity, purpose, values and virtues AND
    • They ha not recognized and both rationally and emotionally felt that their current beliefs, behaviors and actions within the organization actually violate or undermine their global/life self-identity, core values, virtues and purpose SO THAT
    • To self-actualize (or at least not be incongruent) they MUST change NOW.
  3. A clear, available and achievable PATHWAY to congruence and actualization (and non-violation) of trainees’ self-identity, core values, virtues and purpose through identifiable, repeatable beliefs, behaviors and actions—ones that also lead to organizational actualization—has not been identified, clearly articulated and emotionally amplified within the individual.
  4. The new beliefs, behaviors and actions have not been modeled and practiced in a repeated and systematic manner by trainees AND thereafter reinforced through organizational and individual Systems, Structures and Rituals that support—and even force—adherence.
  1. Our only power to affect a change in outcomes is when we change behaviors and actions.
  2. Behaviors and actions change only when we change core beliefs and habitual emotional states.
  3. We can't force people to change their beliefs and emotions. Only through the process of self-reflection and revelation might we change our beliefs and emotions and, therefore, our behaviors. This is where the organization, and the individual, must be active: The change leaders can and must lead people through the process of personal re-evaluation, with the hopes they have revelations. The organization must lead people to make the association between personal purpose, identity and values and the necessary change that must happen in the organization.
  4. The new belief, behavior and action change must be practiced repeatedly until it becomes unconsciously applied in a habitual manner. The organization must set up initial training to identify and synchronize individual and organizational beliefs (values, rules, standards, identity) and behaviors. Then...
  5. Systems, Structures and Rituals that institutionalize the commitment to and process of change must be established, managed and led--actively, consistently and from the CEO down.

There are specific techniques that will increase the probability of true and lasting change. Organizations must commit considerable human resources to designing, implementing and supporting change from the top down, throughout the entire organization over the long-term.

Culture, including values, rules and standards, must be redefined, clarified, passionately adopted and organically institutionalized through training, practice and example.

We all always want more.

What got us here won’t get us there.

To not be insane, per Einstein’s definition, we must change our beliefs, behaviors and actions to get the change we are after.

Here’s to wishing you the greatest success and fulfillment in your change efforts. Both personal and organizational.

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Posted in Leadership Development Blog, Motivation, Leadership & Success Self Help Blog.

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