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News & Features - April 2012

4 Ways to Avoid Programme Failure

Wednesday 4th April 2012

Guiding change may be the ultimate test of an NGO leader because no organisation survives over the long term if it cannot deliver successful change. But, human nature being what it is, fundamental change is often resisted by the people it most affects: those in the trenches. This means that leading ‘successful’ change is both absolutely essential and incredibly difficult.

The well-known consulting firm ‘Bain’ once studied 21 of their most impressive transformations and found four principles underlying successful turnarounds. Bearing in mind that 70% of change programmes fail (Ref 1), any leader involved in transformations should carefully consider this short, yet powerful list of success principles.

1. Set high standards and lead by example
Advocates of transformation programs must be real leaders who roll up their sleeves, clearly understand the job and get on with it. If leaders are asking the entire company to share their vision, they must begin by guiding from the front. A focused set of performance and ethical standards helps establish the right tone, and CEOs should communicate these as simple, powerful messages to all employees.

2. Put the right managers in place and give them real power
No matter how good a CEO is, they cannot single-handedly transform a company. But unfortunately, the existing senior management team often lacks the talent to steer the company through a difficult change process. Even capable managers may be closely aligned with the old company and viewed by employees as incompetent or untrustworthy. Bain’s research shows that replacing senior management correlates closely with successful change. Almost every one of the 21 textbook turnarounds included a substantial replacement of the senior team. This makes interim management a smart choice.

3. Focus on results, not an elaborate change process
The most successful leaders of troubled companies do not get absorbed by the process of change, but they stay focused on the end result. Successful transformers begin by developing a clear view on where the value lies within the business, and what’s required to get it.

4. Change quickly – tackle issues in parallel, not in sequence
Successful transformations hinge upon speedy execution. For the most part, identifying the key elements of change, implementing the change quickly and tackling the issues in parallel is far more effective than easing change sequentially into the organisation. How quickly? The most successful transformers in Bain’s the study completed the bulk of their turnarounds in two years or less. None took more than three years, and in all cases, some form of tangible, improved results appeared almost immediately.

Ref 1: Michael Beer and Nitin Nohria, “Cracking the code of change,” Harvard Business Review (May-June 2000): 133-141.

By Rob Llewellyn – Business Transformation Consultant



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