Chapter 2The Science of Change

In 1996, Harvard Business School professor John Kotter reported to the world the results of his 10-year study of more than 100 companies that attempted large-scale organizational change. In his book, Leading Change, he wrote, “I estimate today more than 70 percent of needed change either fails to be launched, even though some people clearly see the need, fails to be completed even though some people exhaust themselves trying, or finishes over budget, late and with initial aspirations unmet.”1 His thinking resonated with findings published three years earlier by Michael Hammer and James Champy in Reengineering the Corporation, who estimated that “50 percent to 70 percent of the organizations that undertake a reengineering effort do not achieve the dramatic results they intended.”2

Truth be told, all of this research happened before our time playing leadership roles in the workplace. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 2000s, when we read Dr. Martin E. Smith’s Success Rates for Different Types of Organizational Change, that reality sunk in for us. Smith’s article reviewed 49 studies that in total encompassed a sample size of over 40,000 respondents. Each of the studies he analyzed had already been published in various business and professional publications (e.g., by the Conference Board, the Academy of Management, Harvard Business Review, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and so on). His conclusion? Thirty-three percent of large-scale change ...

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