The road to success – doing the right things right

It is estimated that failed change initiatives cost the UK £1.7 billion a year. The majority of changes either fail completely or don’t achieve the improvements they were designed to deliver. A previous article in this blog outlined what not to do. This article will identify for you the factors that lead to successfully delivering the outcomes you desire from change.

success ahead

In the last article on this topic I stated that I had my “Top 10” things that lead to failure or partial success (by definition, partial failure). There is also a Top 10 list of the factors that drive success in change initiatives, supported by research from the teams at IBM. In this article, I will take you through the top six (and explain why I am choosing six).

The single biggest factor that drives successful change initiatives is the biggest by a substantial margin. I will therefore devote appropriate time and space to explain why there is such a strong correlation between successfully achieving change objectives and effective senior leadership sponsorship. To achieve this aim, I will devote a whole future article to outlining the sponsorship behaviours that drive successful change programmes. I have shared and coached these behaviours with the most senior leaders in organisations, and have done so with their direct reports, and their direct reports and so on and so on. They will be open to you as part of your toolbox when you have the article in the near future. Sign up for this blog now to automatically receive newly published articles in your Inbox.

In terms of what effective sponsorship by senior leadership is, all I will say about “senior” leadership is that it is a relative term. It does not exclusively refer to one person such as the Chief Executive. Effective sponsorship is required at all leadership levels. The point is that the higher the level of the leader, the greater the impact and influence they have on the outcomes of change programmes. Where you find change delivering the desired outcomes, you find great sponsorship by senior leaders.


The next biggest factor that leads to change objectives being achieved is the level of employee involvement. A lot of research and many case studies exist showing the dramatic impact of increased Employee Engagement on levels of performance. The effect is shown in all of the areas of income growth, productivity and performance, customer/client satisfaction and innovation. It also drives significantly better results in absence and well-being, in staff retention, and it even dramatically improves health and safety, reducing the level and impact of accidents. It is therefore unsurprising that organisations with high levels of Employee Engagement are also better at achieving effective results from change programmes.

The third and fourth factors that provide the conditions for achieving the desired change results are linked to some extent. They have similar degrees of impact, and are (a) honest and timely communications and (b) an organisational culture that motivates and promotes change. Communication is key to success in many facets of life, be it personal life or organisational life. In my experience, successful change is not just about having a great internal communications capability that is keeping everybody informed (although this is a vital component). It is about being able to create a two-way communications capability that enables everyone in the organisation to contribute and to feel involved. Often external communications (again two-way) are also vital to success, by engaging all the stakeholders to contribute to and support the changes, and to contribute to defining what results the changes should be designed to achieve. Factor number six is similarly connected to numbers three and four – it is having a culture that naturally supports the change that is being attempted.

Gerstner pic and quote

The final ingredient in the successful recipe for change is the existence of Change Agents (sometimes referred to as Pioneers). I am a great believer of having defined Change Roles and Change Agents are one of the important Roles. To promote great sponsorship of change by senior leadership, I implement Change Sponsor as a clearly defined role as well as having a Change Agent role. Change Agents are not the same as the most senior leaders, although some senior leaders can fulfil this role effectively. Often, Change Agents are the senior leadership of the future. They must be carefully selected, trained and supported – as must all the holders of the Change Roles. Good coaching and behavioural change skills and capabilities are key components in supporting all the Change Roles, and are vital to get the best out of Change Agents who are still evolving their capabilities.

The reason I have chosen to include the top 6 factors, rather than the top 3 or 4 or whatever number, is to illustrate a learning point. If you go back over the 6, ask yourself how many of them are things you can see or touch? I could argue that all of them are “soft”, intangible factors – they are not “hard” things like resources, processes, project plans and reviews and the like (although I do admit Change Agents can be seen, it is the way in which they are selected and supported (intangible factors) that makes them effective, makes them more than just resources). The message is clear – the key factors required to successfully achieve goals through change initiatives are largely “soft”. If you recall, the factors that cause change programmes to fail in delivery are also largely “soft.”

They may be “soft” but they are certainly not “fluffy” – getting the soft factors right delivers results that are very hard-edged.