C: The sad fact is that most transformations fail. Hi, I’m Chet Marchwinski, Communications Director at the Lean Enterprise Institute. To talk about reasons why change initiatives fail and hopefully to give you some ways to avoid it, I’m talking today with Lynn Kelley.
Lynn, welcome and thanks for taking the time out to talk about this important question and hopefully give the viewers some tips on how to sidestep change failure. First, in your experience, what are the keys to sustaining change?
L: Well this is a good question because I learned through a lot of failures. For the last 30 years I’ve been implementing large-scale change throughout major organizations, often Fortune 200 companies, and I failed a lot. And every time I failed I would use my lean training to try to figure out the root cause, and then, as you mentioned, I have a Ph.D. in Research and Evaluations, I would look at the research and say, “What does the research say about this topic?” And what I found is some common areas where people fail.
So I’ve put together over the course of my career a playbook, which I use to facilitate change with my teams. And I went from mostly failing to mostly succeeding with this playbook. And I continue to refine it, but the main thing I found that ensures success is that before you announce the change, before you go out there and say “We’re going to change!”, you have thought through a multitude of potential problem areas, and created answers for those and addressed them, so that all of those possible places you could fail are addressed before you start.
C: And you mentioned the research, and you’ve noted that 70 percent of large-scale change initiatives fail, and 60 percent of continuous improvement projects fail to sustain results. That’s pretty discouraging!
L: It is discouraging, and guess what? Every study has 60-70. The thing that I don't think we understand is when we’re starting to roll something out, the probability is that it’s going to fail. And so what we really need to do is look beyond that. It’s funny because when I teach this course, I ask the students, “Tell me all the ways that change fails.” And they almost always name every single area. We can say some of them right now: lack of leadership; certain employees just don’t want to change; employees don’t have the right skills but we didn’t provide them with training. There’s a multitude of reasons and they’re pretty well documented. The two major ones that almost tie in the percentages are lack of leadership support and employees just don’t want to change.
C: As you note, you’ve had a lot of experience with big companies, small companies and change. And at one point you were COO of a hospital. So I’m wondering – do healthcare change efforts face special challenges?
L: Actually, not in my experience. I’ve used this methodology in engineering, in healthcare…the automotive industry, the aerospace industry, even at E-Z-Go golf cars. Lots of different situations, lots of different applications: finance departments, IT departments, change is change is change. It always fails for the same reasons; it doesn’t matter. The amount of effort you have to put in the various areas may differ, but it’s usually the same categories.
C: And finally, you teach a workshop that’s called Change That Sustains. Who is it aimed at and what will they learn?
L: It’s primarily aimed at anyone who is implementing change. What we do is we start by looking at enterprise-wide or company-wide change, big change; and then we get very granular and we take it down to projects. Maybe 10 years ago my team took the change principles and we applied them to our projects because our internal customers said “Wait a minute; your projects don’t sustain!” And we looked at the data and we found that just 10 percent of our projects sustained the same metrics after six months. And I bet you that’s not that unusual out there. And so we worked through this playbook and addressed a lot of areas. And last year we were at 95 percent sustainment. And what I’m telling you is that metric is still sustaining the gain. And by the way, if it hasn’t, if it’s gone red…we escalate it. So we have to get six months of sustainment in order to call it sustained, and last year it was 95 percent.
C: Wow, that’s remarkable. Lynn, thanks a lot for stopping by and sharing your insights on this important topic.
L: Thank you Chet.
Editor's note: Did you miss Lynn Kelley at the 2017 Lean Transformation Summit? Catch her again when she teaches Change That Sustains at the 2018 Summit, March 26-27 in Nashville. For more information, visit the summit webpage.