7 Reasons Why 81% of Cultural Changes Fail

Let's talk about success

We often hear from change management failure statistics about business change's depressing high failure rate. Stories of change efforts failing creep us out and make us afraid to proceed with our change inivitiatives.


The good news is that, according to a change management research, the median for success varies massively from 19%-81%, depending on the change we want to make. 


Cultural change has a 19% success rate, the most ambitious goal for businesses. Luckily, this doesn’t stop us from trying. We observe a shift to a customer-centric, change-agile and innovative culture across many industries. 

survey about cultural change failure

So, why change management fails? What do we even mean by change failure?

Paul Gibbons, author of the Science of Organisational Change uses the very handy acronym SOCKS to check and track your change success or failure:

  • Shortfalls: The project doesn’t achieve its benefits
  • Overrun: The project cost more than budgeted
  • Consequences: The project has unforeseen externalities
  • Killed: The project is shelved
  • Sustainable: The behavioural change did not stick

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So now that we know what we mean by failed cultural change, let’s look at why SOCKS are so common and how to avoid them.

8 in 10 cultural change projects report one or more SOCKS. Here are the top 7 reasons why:

  1. Change is considered to be a phase not a constant
  2. There are limited change capacities and capabilities across the business
  3. Change Management specialists own the change
  4. Leaders experience change as a disruption of their core business
  5. Cultural change is often planned rather static as a Big Bang
  6. Culture programs are centrally planned and driven from top-down
  7. Employees are seen as resistant to change
7 Reasons Why 81% of Cultural Changes Fail

Successful change leaders create awareness about these hazards, include appropriate contingencies in the plan and actively work towards mitigating the risk of SOCKS.

By accepting that change is constant and part of your core business you shift to a change-mindset. This allows you to prioritise learning about Change Management and Change Leadership to be future-ready. By uplifting your organisations Change Leadership capability you will be able to:

  • Increase your capacity to lead and manage change in-house
  • Distribute change advocacy and ownership across all levels of your organisation
  • Co-create change in iteration

Eva is one of the masterminds behind Approach Services' blog and The 6 Cents of Change. She is an innovator, trainer and change manager. Her work has been published in the Schmalenbach Journal of Business Research. In her spare time, she enjoys camping with her two little boys and permaculture gardening.

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