6 Myths and 1 Must-Have Ingredient for Leading Organizational Change

changeLeading organizational change efforts is often a messy, challenging, time-consuming, and emotionally draining process for leaders that end in failure up to 70% of the time. We often blame the usual culprits for failed change efforts: too much change too fast, the top leaders didn’t support it, or not everyone in the organization understood the change and bought into it. However, the reasons we commonly think change efforts fail may be more fiction than fact. More myth than reality.

Accenture Strategy recently released a report that shared six common myths about implementing change efforts in business. Their research covered 250 major change initiatives in more than 150 organizations with data collected from over 850,000 employees in the last 15 years.

Myth #1: Too Much Change Too Fast Is Destructive

Accenture found that the highest performing organizations accepted change as a cultural norm. Rather than getting stymied by change efforts, these organizations actually thrived because the tempo of regular change and growth was expected. The research showed that the top performing organizations implemented change at rates up to 30%-50% more than their lower performing counterparts.

Myth #2: Change Causes Organizations To Go Off-Track

Change initiatives don’t usually fail as a result of the change itself. They typically fail because of underlying leadership, culture, or process issues that are already present. Many of these pre-existing conditions are only brought to light when the change effort gets underway. Accenture’s research indicated that 85% of organizations run into trouble because of these underlying issues, but in organizations where there is a solid foundation of trust and confidence in leadership at all levels, change efforts are much less likely to go off-track.

Myth #3: Performance Will Dip During The Early Stages Of Change

Most traditional models of change dictate that performance will decline while people overcome the initial resistance to the change effort. In high performing organizations, performance around cost management, customer service, and effectiveness actually rises consistently from the start of the change through the end.

Myth #4: People Need To Understand Changes Before Committing To Them

This is true…for low performing organizations. But for high performing organizations the reverse is actually true. Because trust is so high in leadership, people are willing to jump on board the change effort in faith without fully knowing where it’s headed. They will invest emotionally and will be happy to figure out the destination as they move forward. The high trust bestowed on these leaders allows them to begin implementing and accelerating change efforts without having to spend inordinate amount of time educating people about the change.

Myth #5: Change Is Usually Top-Down And Meets Resistance From Managers

Effective change usually radiates out from the middle of the organization rather than coming down from the top. According to this research, it’s the managers below the unit leaders who play the biggest part in successfully implementing change. It’s the “heart of the house,” that middle layer of management, that carries the most weight and influence throughout the organization.

Myth #6: Emotions Don’t Matter

Emotions have a tremendous impact on the success of change efforts. This study found that high levels of fear and frustration can negatively reduce business outcomes by 20%, while positive emotions like passion, drive, and trust can boost them by up to 50%.

The Must-Have Ingredient For Successful Organizational Change

I’ve been involved in a fair amount of organizational change efforts during my career. I can identify with these myths, having chalked up the failure of more than one failed change effort to some or all of them. As I read through this report and reflected on my own experience, it’s clear to me that trust is the one must-have ingredient for a successful change effort. Leaders who have the trust of their people can implement change faster, work through resistance easier, build stronger commitment to the change, and drive organizational results. High trust won’t necessarily guarantee the success of a change effort, but you can bet that low trust will almost certainly derail even the best change initiatives.

9 Comments on “6 Myths and 1 Must-Have Ingredient for Leading Organizational Change

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  2. Yes, Randy, trust helps change happen better. But is trust to be intentionally built? Or is it more of a by-product of being a good leader? I favor the latter theory.

    • Great question Sharon.

      To a large degree trust is a by-product of the behaviors we use. Use “trust-boosting” behaviors and you get trust. In addition, there are environmental factors that affect trust as well – organizational policies and procedures and cultural norms and practices, for example.

      I advocate a both/and approach. Leaders need to be keenly aware of the behaviors they use that will build trust, and they also need to be manage the environmental factors that help to cultivate an environment where trust can flourish.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.


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  4. I agree with your observation Randy: “Leaders need to be keenly aware of the behaviors they use that will build trust, and they also need to manage the environmental factors that help to cultivate an environment where trust can flourish.” Trust is something that develkops when she show up in an embodied and authentic way in my experience. This can include being transparent about challenges.
    I would add that servant leaders and participatory leadership will become more and more important in the 21st century. We have far too much bureaucracy weighing us down in a top down hierachy. As Buurtzorg shows this is a very expensive way to run an organisation while it also disempwoers workers.. I just pulbished an interview in 3 parts that I did with Jos de Blok from Buurztorg. the 3rd interview is about the impact on health and socialcare in the UK as he is working with over 10 organisation in England already.

    The interview I did with Jos de Blok, the founder of Buurtzorg published in 3 parts on Enlivening Edge.

    Part 1: Jos de Blok, the Founder of Buurtzorg, Speaks of His Journey

    Part 2: Global Impact of Buurtzorg and the Nature of System Change

    Part 3: How the Buurtzorg Model of Healthcare influences UK Health & Social Care

    Curious what you think.


  5. As a big ‘Speed of trust’ fan I can only agree. I started working systematically with trust building two years ago and it was incredible to watch how much my teams efficiency grew exponentially within that time. Collaboration and implementing new changes become so much easier when those bringing the change are people we trust.

  6. Pingback: The “Why” is Key – Learning That Fits

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