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3 reasons why organizations fail to change

19.1.2012 | 7 minutes of reading time


Let’s say that somebody found out that his or her organization has to change the way it works. It can be the way of organizing the teams, the way of making products, the way of marketing the products to better position them on the market, to be more attractive compared to competitors, to deliver more often, to better satisfy customers, etc. You can be a member of one of the teams, you can be the manager whose career depends on the change, and finally you can be the consultant who is hired to help to embrace the change. Somebody made the decision, people have gotten their training, managers are supportive, there is a budget secured and tools are bought. But nothing has changed. Why?

I am sure this sounds familiar to you. There are many projects like that and many organizations are struggling with issues of change management.

I can give you a more specific example. An Organization decided to deliver software earlier and more often to their customers. The approach chosen was implementing Agile using the Scrum framework. A new pilot team was formed, team members got training in Scrum, Test Driven Development, Pair Programming, programming in the language chosen and technologies used.

Management purchased books and software. The IT department installed Jira. Then they ran the first Sprints and noticed that not much has changed. Motivation and initiative were low and the Team failed to deliver. If fact team members still demonstrated old habits, just with new labels on them. You could say they have everything what is needed to be successful. But the change just did not happen. Why? Probably there is something still missing and the factors mentioned above are not enough to embrace the change.

I will not solve anything for you in this article. I cannot promise you that, because I do not know your context and your situation well enough. However I will give you enough guidance, tips and clues to give you ideas how to create change in your environment and point you the right direction.  I bet when reading this article, you will already have some ideas to implement.

Beckhard’s Formula for Change

Richard Beckhard was a pioneer in the field of organizational development . He co-launched the Addison-Wesley Organization Development Series and began the Organization Development Network in 1967. His classic work, Organization Development: Strategies and Models, was published in 1969. Beckhard was an adjunct professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management from 1963-1984. He died on December 28, 1999.

He helped to define organizational development as: “an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, (3) managed from the top, to (4) increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organization’s ‘processes’, using behavioural-science knowledge”.

Together with David Gleicher, he is credited with developing a Formula for Change . The formula proposes that the combination of organisational dissatisfaction, vision for the future and the possibility of immediate, tactical action must be stronger than the resistance within the organisation in order for meaningful change to occur.


D x V x FS > RC

The Formula for Change says that to overcome Resistance for Change (RC) you need to use multiplication of three factors: Dissatisfaction (D) with the current situation, Vision (V) of what organization is going to achieve and clear, simple First Steps (FS). Mathematical principle of multiplication applies to this formula, so none of the factors can be 0, because then the whole value of the left site of formula is 0. Also maximizing one of the factors will greatly affect value of the left site.

Simply saying the three key factors needed to create long-lasting change are Dissatisfaction, Vision, First Steps. If the value of one of them is 0, that is the reason why your organization fails to change. It is also important to steer these values wisely.

In a moment we will tell you more.


To have any need whatsoever for a change, you need to be dissatisfied with the current state, the current situation. As simple as that. If you don’t see that your overweight is a health hazard, you are not going to feel like going to gym every other day. If you are happy with your car, your are not going to look for a new one.

If the organization does not believe that there is anything wrong with the current situation, you will not get buy in from people.

You can apply here another principle, I believe it is one of Murphy’s laws “If something works, don’t fix it!”. Let’s say that location of furniture in your living room is fine, but one they you decide, that moving TV to the other wall is a better idea. But then you will have to move the cables, drill new holes, fix the old holes, maybe change the carpet. It you change the carpet, maybe the paintings on the wall will have to be change, to much the carpet, then repainting the room and so on. Huge effort, budget spend, but at the end not much of benefit. If the current processes, the current way of working is efficient and works well, do not bother with changing it only because some keyword has become popular or something works for another company. Every organization is specific and what works well in one place, usually does not work same in another. Do not focus to much on dissatisfaction and don’t make the situation very painful.  You can easily overwhelm the team with negative message and create wrong picture in people minds. This will demotivate your team. Make sure that there is some dissatisfaction and multiply the effect with the other two factors.


I can safely say that since google became know, a lot of organizations put “to be like google” in their goals, but there are few important things that can change that goal to just a wishful thinking. The most important of them is the right vision.

You can simplify organization to a bunch of people doing something together. It depends on vision if you are going to unleash the full potential in people or they will be just reactively doing tasks assigned by somebody. With the right Vision of what company is doing and what the organization wants to achieve, you will keep people motivated and proactive in solving issues.

Importance of vision is also highlighted in the book about new, effective way of motivating people by Daniel Pink “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” . Therefore, when you want to make a change happen, build attractive, clear vision and make sure that everyone understands it will buy into it.

How to do it? It’s simple. Answer the following questions:

  • Why this change is good?
  • What is the benefit?
  • How will you know that it happened?
  • How the organization and people working there will look like when you will make it happen?

First Steps

When you know what to change, why change is needed and what is clear vision of what you want to achieve, you need a good plan.

Plan consists of steps. Make sure that you do not plan for everything what can happen on the way, but you plan well first steps. So you know who, and how need to do what tasks and how can you measure the progress. Set milestones and break them to easy, clear, visible steps. There is nothing more demotivating and confusing in being member of organization than not knowing what is expected and how to achieve it or how to know that the task is done.

We are talking of course about new environment, new tools, new processes and so on, so failure is inevitable. If we would have same approach as teacher have in evaluating student’s work when we have been learning how to walk, everybody would crawl now or use a wheelchair to move around. It will happen some time that somebody will fail. When it will happen, give him or her your support, focus on what went well and what to do to avoid failure in future.

If something doesn’t work, do something different. If you step on difficulties, engage whole organization, somebody will have and idea how to remove impediments. Failures are valuable lessons that everybody needs to get. Somebody said “If you do not make mistakes, you are doing something wrong”.


So to make a change successful you need 3 things:

  • Dissatisfaction with the current state
  • Vision of what you want to achieve and where do you want to go
  • Clear and simple First Steps

Now, check what is needed in your organization and make the change happen or leave the situation as it is now. Because if something is working, do not fix it, if does not work, do something different.

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