If 70 percent of change efforts fail…

Dr. John Kotter is the foremost authority on organizational change, and the last decade of his research on the subject has culminated into an exciting discovery that’s covered in A Sense of Urgency. A sense of urgency is an important theme in all aspects of leading change, according to Kotter.

Seventy percent fail

We’ve learned from Kotter’s research that 70 percent of large-scale change efforts fail, the successful cases benefit from sufficient urgency and enthusiasm at the start, in other words, “enough buy-in from a critical mass of employees who make the desired change happen.” A Sense of Urgency takes a good look at urgency and how to create it while not confusing it with false urgency or cloaking it in complacency.

Here are two interview questions I asked Dr. Kotter on the topic when we posted our Page to Practice™ feature of A Sense of Urgency at CausePlanet:

CausePlanet: Your book nailed my initial perception in the opening line of the preface: “This is a book about a seemingly narrow issue…” Seemingly is the key point here. Will you please explain how your deeper look at urgency revealed an important theme in all aspects of leading change?

John Kotter: Sense of Urgency was borne out of a decade of research and writing on how individuals can lead successful change in their organizations. In study after study and in conversation after conversation with managers and senior leaders, it became clear it all starts with urgency.
Seventy percent of large-scale change efforts fail; just 10 percent succeed beyond expectations. In every case, generating sufficient urgency and enthusiasm at the start—enough to win buy-in from a critical mass of employees and to move them to devote the time and energy necessary to drive change forward—proved to be the defining factor. In today’s fast-paced, turbulent world, that gut-level determination to win and win now is more important than ever before.

CausePlanet: You explain that complacency is the lesser of evils when compared to false urgency. Can you please explain why for our readers?

John Kotter: First, let’s look at the difference between complacency and false urgency. In an organization where complacency is prevalent, people rest on their past successes. They are content with the status quo. They are inwardly focused, unaware of the rapidly changing world around them and the hazards and opportunities that come with it. And even if they recognize there are challenges out there, they leave it to others to address them. That sort of contentment can be disastrous for an organization.

Many mangers think complacency can be remedied with lots of energetic activity. They send people running from meeting to meeting, push them to tackle task after task, assign them to this task force or that project team. With all that activity, they feel they’ve driven their people to abandon the status quo and have created a sense of urgency for change. But it’s just not true. What they are actually witnessing is false urgency, unfocused flurries of activity that are distracting and unproductive. And they are even more dangerous than complacency because they sap the energy needed to achieve real and lasting change.

Watch for more of my interview with John Kotter next week and visit www.KotterInternational.com for more information about his books.

See also:

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down
The Three Laws of Performance

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