Saturday, February 24, 2024
CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insider - Change and Being Changed

CEO Insider

Change and Being Changed

Leo Bottary

I have encountered countless CEOs who tell me that employees resist change. While I believe that can be true, Peter Senge shared a quote from an organizational culture strategist in his book, The Fifth Discipline, noting, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” The quote offers an important distinction, suggesting that employees are not against change; they just don’t want change imposed upon them without their input or consent.

If you wonder why organizational change can be challenging, it’s because CEOs want to impose change rather than take the time to gather input and build support for it. It’s why McKinsey points out that a change initiative’s likelihood for success or failure can rest largely on the veracity with which employees are willing to get behind it and give it a fair chance. This is where the power of peers and leading with a bent toward inclusion can make a big difference. 

How Big A Problem Is It?

The standard answer repeated all too many times is: “70% of all organizational change initiatives fail.” Despite how often and in how many places you’ve seen this figure over the past twenty years, there’s no hard evidence to support it. While it may have been a convenient meme for management consulting firms wanting to assure clients of the necessity of engaging them, it appears that’s all it is.       

After a rather exhaustive Google search, I called upon Chat GPT to respond to this question: “What’s the latest data regarding the failure and underperformance rate of organizational change initiatives?”  Here’s what I got:

The latest data regarding the failure and underperformance of organizational change initiatives varies depending on the source and the specific type of change initiative. However, some key findings are as follows:

  1. Data from McKinsey & Company suggests that only about one-third of organizational change initiatives succeed.
  2. A study by Harvard Business Review found that only 54% of transformation efforts met their initial targets, with a mere 20% exceeding expectations.
  3. Another survey by Gartner Research found that up to 80% of digital transformation projects fail to meet their objectives.
  4. For mergers and acquisitions, research from KPMG indicates that failure rates may be as high as 83%, with human and cultural factors being the primary reasons for underperformance.
  5. The Center for Creative Leadership reports that up to 70% of leadership development initiatives fail.

“These data points suggest that organizational change initiatives are often challenging to execute successfully. However, it’s worth noting that the specific factors contributing to success or failure can vary greatly depending on the initiative’s specific context, goals, and challenges.”

The short answer from AI is pretty much, ‘(A)I have no idea.” For starters, each of the five answers speaks to a different brand of change, and the results are not based on reliable research models. 

So Why Should We Care About It?

While the failure rate may not be 70%, that doesn’t mean it’s not unacceptably high, and if we include underperformance on top of that, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Moreover, the pace of change over the next decade will demand it.  

Faster is Slower

“Faster is slower” is another concept from Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline that today’s CEOs seeking to make an organizational change successfully should consider heeding. This concept speaks to CEOs who either believe that everyone will share their appreciation for the genius of an impending change or want to shove it down everyone’s throat without their input because they happen to work there. Because asking for information, gaining support, or communicating the “why” for change takes too long, leaders impose their will instead – all too often to their detriment.

As a kid, I remember receiving mail packages requiring assembly. I can’t tell you how many times I busted open the box and began putting it together without reading the directions first. This approach worked out poorly for me, more often than not. I usually had extra pieces at the end that required me to disassemble the item to include them, which sometimes resulted in my forcing a part into place, only to break it. I got started faster, but at best, it took me longer, and most often, I failed. Faster is slower in organizations, too. Implement too rapidly, and you will do so at your peril. 

Invite Your People to Join You in Change

One of the most significant benefits of peer influence in organizational change is its ability to create a sense of ownership and employee engagement. When employees are actively involved in the change process and feel that their opinions are valued and heard, they are more invested in the success of the change. In addition, internal peer groups can provide a platform for employees to share their ideas and insights on how to make change work, leading to innovative solutions.

Peernovation, as a discipline of reflection, clarity, and intentionality, also emphasizes the importance of transparency and open communication. By being transparent about the reasons for change and how it will affect employees, leaders can help to ease fears and concerns and garner invaluable input and support. Peer influence can facilitate open communication and transparency, as peer groups serve as a forum for employees to express their concerns and offer feedback on the change process.


Peter Senge’s quote, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed,” highlights the importance of involving employees in the change process and addressing their concerns and opinions. Leveraging the power of peers can be vital to implementing change successfully in today’s organizations, as it leverages the strengths and expertise of employees for innovation and growth. What runs horizontally in your organization gives the vertical structure its integrity. By fostering a culture of collaboration and teamwork, leaders can overcome employee resistance and drive organizational success for everyone’s benefit.

Written by Leo Bottary.
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insider - Change and Being Changed
Leo Bottary
Leo Bottary is the founder and managing partner of Peernovation. He is a sought-after thought leader on Peer Advantage and Peernovation, emerging disciplines dedicated to strategically engaging peers to achieve personal and organizational excellence. A popular author of three books, including Peernovation: What Peer Advisory Groups Can Teach Us About Building High-performing Teams (Archway; October 16, 2020), he is also an author, keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, and thought leader on the topic of peer advantage.

Books by Leo Bottary:
Peernovation: What Peer Advisory Groups Can Teach Us About Building High-performing Teams.
What Anyone Can Do
The One Advantage: Introducing a Peer-Powered Culture of Agility to Your Organization
The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth, and Success

Leo Bottary is a member of the External Advisory Board (EAB) and Executive Council at the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn, for more information, visit the author’s website CLICK HERE.