August 3, 2015 Anil Saxena

Is It The Change That Fails Or The Lack Of Focus On Transition?

change management project fails2/3 of all change initiatives fail! Shocking bold-faced headlines pushing us to believe that change fails because:

  • People suck at change
  • No one really knows how to do it
  • It has to be managed
  • The right process was not chosen

What if all of those reasons about change management projects failing were not true?


My father came to the United States as an immigrant. He used to tell me it was both exhilarating and terrifying.

“I knew how to be successful in India. There I was a skilled and successful engineer. But I had to learn how to be successful in a new way here in the States.”

His college advisor at Duke didn’t talk to about the steps he needed to take to assimilate. Instead he focused on helping this new place feel like home. But it was never “now this is your new home, deal with it.” That would have been insane. Why should it be any different at work? Why isn’t there more focus on the transitions?


“It’s not the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” – William Bridges

Bridges defines transitions as:

Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.

Said a different way

Successful change is less about the mechanics of the change project and more about how people migrate between their old comfortable world and the new scary world.

What if we focused 50% of change efforts on the mechanics and 50% on helping people through the “messy middle of change?

What might that look like?

  • Help people to agree to/accept the change – understanding what the new world will look like and how it will be implemented.
  • Promote the change – it’s vital that people are bought into the principles of the change (this with the “What’s In It for Me” portion)
  • Make sure people appreciate the impact – describe the consequences of the change both from an individual and a personal perspective.
  • Identify and use leverage tools– leverage tools are ways in which we can encourage folks to accept and even promote the transition. (Different changes, people and organizations will need different levers to make that change work.)


The whole practice of change management may be misnamed. There are certainly technical aspects to it that must be managed. But, that is only a portion of it. Truthfully, it’s not so much the new way of working that needs managing, but the transition from old to new; change management is really about helping people through the transition from the “old way of doing things to the new”.

How do you help people through the messy transition from old to new?

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