Improving Your Odds of Success: Top 5 Factors

By Lynell Rogeri, Managing Director

Organizations undergo change for many different reasons; albeit some are more voluntary than others.  Whether the change is driven by an internal desire to transform itself or pressure from the market to better compete, most large change programs have a high risk of failing. Studies by well-known change practitioners, strategy firms and academics have reported anywhere from 50% to 70% of large change efforts fail.  The objective of this article is to describe ways to improve your odds as you undertake your own efforts.

Based on a recent Opportune led survey, this article summarizes the top success factors from people who have both managed and participated in large change programs.  The majority of people responding were not only project managers, but equally as many were subject matter experts who participated in projects.  Besides those 2 roles, the distribution was fairly spread amongst business leads, analysts, steering committee members, change managers, developers, technical leads, and recipients of the change.

The majority of changes represented by those responding spawn a range of initiatives from system implementations, to mergers or acquisitions, re-organizations, process re-engineering, and cost reductions.  While the goals and activities of these projects vary greatly, the success factors are comparable.  The top 5 success factors, based on the number of times cited, are clear leaders as compared to the other choices.

  1. Right People. 85% of all respondents selected having the right people on the team as one of their top five critical success factors. It is clear that if you don’t have the right people involved in carrying out the mission, you won’t be successful.  Ensure people have active roles on the project and are not just advisors who are polled occasionally.  Diversity of the team is equally important.  The team should represent all impacted departments and should understand the needs of both management and staff.  The team members should have a mix of skills including knowledge of the tasks required, influence in the organization, initiative, and dependability.  Engaging the right people requires a significant commitment from the organization – demonstrating the project is a priority for these individuals.
  2. Leadership Support. 77% of all respondents agreed having leadership support an initiative is critical to its success. Leadership does not imply the top executive within the company.  Leadership comes from those who can motivate others, be trusted by the team, and have the courage and stamina to stay the course.  Leadership must be active before, during, and after the initiative.   More than being just accountable for the results, leaders must inspire the team and engage the impacted organization, so they understand the importance of the changes.
  3. Effective Communications. 75% of all respondents agreed success is closely linked to effective communications. Communications must be consistent, factual, and yet personal.  Meaningful dialogue with individuals should occur as often as is possible.  Communications should identify priorities and clearly identify the vision and what is changing.  These communications don’t happen by accident.  Effective communications should be carefully planned and adjusted as necessary and as feedback is received.
  4. Clear Vision. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Determine that the thing can and shall be done and then we shall find the way.” Before embarking on any change program, the organization must understand what and how they will be different than they are today.  This vision sets the direction, but also motivates people.  When times get tough or there are hard decisions to be made, it is this vision that will keep the team on track.
  5. Strong Project Management. Ideally, the initiative is led by an experienced project manager with strong organizational skills, who understands and can manage the scope, and who has clear decision-making processes in place. The project manager sets the tempo for the team and leads from start to finish.  This discipline is more than planning and executing a work plan, which are critical, but also enforces teamwork, ensures the right people are working on the right tasks, and ensures the results are of high quality and are in line with the defined vision.

Other important success factors are related to delivering a true difference to the business.  To create value, designing effective processes and aligning the business needs with technology are important. This value should be defined in a business case which lays out the benefits, as well as the costs associated with achieving the vision.  There were other tactical measures that also made the top ten list, including having a sufficient budget to do the job right and providing adequate training to those who are impacted.

Opportune utilizes proven methods to improve your project’s chances of success. Our services range from assessing your current approach and team dynamics, to developing customized programs and designing fit-for-purpose solutions as your business evolves. Opportune’s staff has decades of collective experience at both the executive and project level, enabling us to effectively prepare your organization to reach its vision.

Innovation and transformation are essential for businesses to survive today.  Whether the change is solving problems for customers, innovating products, or reducing costs, the risks to achieving the desired outcomes are well known but manageable. Effective leadership, accompanied by a strong team and management can deliver on the goals and ensure an engaged organization that can sustain the long-term strategic vision.