It’s almost inevitable that whenever organizational change comes up in conversation that someone will say, “Change is hard.” Now while this may just seem like someone stating the obvious, we tend to treat “hard” and “failure” as the same thing. Equating these two can skew our perceptions of success, which happens way more often than we may think. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Nick Tasler tackles how our perceptions of change are ultimately damaging our ability to conduct it properly.
The Power of Positivity
Our attitude towards failure can lead us to look at success with an overly critical eye. In a recent study from the University of Chicago, Ed O’Brien and Nadav Klein found that we tend to see failure as happening more often than success. Their study used a season’s worth of statistics from a star athlete who had worse numbers than usual and another, more average athlete who happened to have a breakout season. The star athlete’s career was seen by study participants as having entered an irreversible downward spiral, while the average player’s success was seen as a fluke.
This mindset can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure when any missteps occur in a change project. Seeing a project as an inevitable failure will more than likely result in it occurring, rather than it succeeding. This isn’t helped by the statement “70% of change efforts fail” being touted by most experts. But this statistic has no empirical backing, in that the number was described as an “unscientific estimate” even back when it was first introduced. A 2011 study by University of Brighton researcher Mark Hughes cannot even find evidence that half of organizational changes fail.
Tasler shares additional recent studies and surveys about how prevalent success is over failure:
For example, when consultants at McKinsey surveyed 1,546 executives in 2009, 38% of respondents said “the transformation was ‘completely’ or ‘mostly’ successful at improving performance, compared with 30 percent similarly satisfied that it improved their organization’s health.”
Based on the numbers from the McKinsey study, it would be tempting to conclude that since only 30-38% of change initiatives are “completely/mostly successful,” then 62-70% must be failures. However, the McKinsey authors added that “around a third [of executives] declare that their organizations were ‘somewhat’ successful on both counts.”
In other words, a third of executives believed that their change initiatives were total successes, and another third believed that their change initiatives were more successful than unsuccessful.
The study then goes to say that only one in 10 were involved in transformation that would be considered “mostly” unsuccessful. With these high rates of success, it requires a reframing of the way we view success to emphasize these positive numbers. By changing the way we talk about change, we can prime people to look for the positives instead of just the negatives.
You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2017/07/stop-using-the-excuse-organizational-change-is-hard