Why do change projects fail?

Organisational change is something that every employee has to accept. Sooner or later, change is going to impact on our working lives – whether it be a move, a merger, a refurbishment, or some other development that disrupts the work environment.

Unfortunately, , many projects fail to meet the hoped-for objectives. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, less than 60% succeed in achieving the stated goal – usually an improvement in the bottom line. Given that change initiatives are time consuming and costly, this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs to say the least.

So why do change projects fail?

We believe the key factor is people. Anyone can design a shiny, eye-catching space that wows the visitors and impresses the media. But if it does not meet the functional and emotional needs of the people who work there, the space will not be used efficiently, morale will drop, and the expected gains will not materialise.

It’s a simple equation. If employees are unhappy, productivity falls and profits stagnate. A happy workforce is more engaged, more productive, and good for business.

Change in the working environment is closely linked to people’s emotional wellbeing. This is due to the intimate nature of the relationship between an employee and their workplace.

Employees tend to develop a strong sense of ownership about their office and their place within it. Their space is familiar and reassuring. Their daily routine is aligned with the office layout. Any alteration in those surroundings can be stressful and unsettling.

A change in corporate culture or working practices, however rational and beneficial on paper, can have a similar effect. People are creatures of habit. They are used to the way things are done. Some may feel unsettled by changes that appear to affect the hierarchy – a change from enclosed offices to open-plan space, for example. Any perceived downgrade, such as a smaller desk or the loss of a window, can provoke frustration.

It’s important to understand that a workforce is not a homogeneous entity. Different generations have different attitudes towards trends like agile working and breakout space. People need to be factored into the change management process long before they’re told to start packing boxes. If they are left in the dark, rumours could spread and resistance could mount.

People need to feel valued and involved. They need to see that their concerns are being addressed. Consultation and communication are the key – but it has to be open, honest, and tailored to the needs of the workforce. A box-ticking, one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work.

This takes thought and planning. Workshops, presentations, posters, team briefings, even change champions can all be deployed to explain why change has to happen, reassure everyone of the benefits, and invite comment and feedback.

Change imposed from above will not work. But treated as a journey of discovery, with everyone fully on board, it can be both stimulating and rewarding. Because what is good for the employee is good for the business.


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