Operation turning round a failing change programme

15 March 2021

A failing change programme can be likened to organ rejection following a transplant operation.

Over the years numerous reviews, articles and case studies from the likes of McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group have suggested that as many as 70-80% of change programmes fail.

Strategic or large-scale change has a significant impact on a company’s ability to operate. The change could increase risk to the business such as cyber-attack, new legislation or a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Or it could present a commercial opportunity such as a new product, a merger or acquisition, new leadership or culture.

According to research by Strativity (2019), the main reasons for transformation failure are poor communication (62%), insufficient leadership and support (54%) and a lack of understanding of the purpose of the change (50%).

The rate of failure is a concern, resulting in wasted time and resources. But it’s clear that the reasons for failure can be addressed with improved communications and engagement.

Change communications experts Grace Dennison, Change and Communications Lead at Co-Op; and Darsheta Maini, Project and Transformation Communication and Engagement Lead at Severn Trent Water, recently shared their advice with 106 Communications on turning round a failing change programme.


Mindful leadership

Make sure your leaders have the skills and knowledge they need to lead your change. Clearly contract their role in leading and embedding the change from the outset to ensure they understand their accountabilities.


Ensure both your long-term and short-term change vision is clearly understood by all stakeholders. When change gets hard, you’ll need your senior leaders to reaffirm the vision with your teams over and over again. Teams often struggle to envisage what the future will look like in their roles, so creating a Day in the Life narrative, in the form of a video, article or talking points for leaders, is a really useful tool to bring this to life.


There may be impacts or results of these changes that you didn’t predict or aren’t aware of, so make sure you are listening across all areas and levels of the business. Regular pulse surveys or focus groups taken at regularly spaced intervals in the programme plan will ensure you understand the stakeholder mood and can respond accordingly.

Regular temperature checks

Business change readiness assessment surveys are a great way to assess how successful your interventions are, they also provide insight into where your colleagues are on their change journey. Proactively share, analyse and discuss the results, as well as how you’re responding to them.

Strong support

Build a community of colleagues who are positively engaged in and own the change through leader and colleague change networks or super user communities.

A steady pulse

Keep a steady pulse of communications between your team and the business, and make sure you’re keeping up to date with how the business is evolving. Don’t forget to communicate the challenges you’re facing as well as what’s in progress and the timelines for resolution.

Find the positives

Share your good news stories by getting colleagues to talk first-hand about their experiences, what is working well as well as what isn’t.

No kneejerk reactions!

When there is a perceived issue (or lots of issues), it’s easy to rush in with a solution. Remember to take stock, (a root cause analysis is a great way to diagnose difficulties – there are some free templates here), and get views from multiple cross-functional teams so that you are prioritising issue resolution and areas for focus.

Plan the aftercare

  • Be proactive – Ensure your communications and engagement plan includes hypercare or post go live support.
  • Communications rhythm – Hypercare needs a steady drumbeat of communications to highlight top issues, key performance metrics and any workarounds.
  • Issue resolution – Don’t forget to close the loop when issues have been resolved.
  • Guest speakers – Invite SMEs and process owners to hypercare sessions to support Q&As.
  • Lessons learned – Capture the good, the bad and the ugly as part of closing off the project.
  • Check one last time – A final landing and embedding survey will give stakeholders the confidence on how the change has been adopted.
  • Hand over to business as usual – Remember to stand down your change champions and let your stakeholders know the programme has delivered.

Huge thanks to Grace and Darsheta for taking the time to share their expertise with us.

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