Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Predicting Implementation Failure in Organization Change

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Predicting Implementation Failure in Organization Change

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

For over a half century, researchers have studied the dynamics of organizational change in an attempt to help organizations more successfully implement it. However, failure in implementing change initiatives persists in organizations and is still recognized as widespread, commonplace, and costly (Wolf, 2006).

Recent review articles have estimated that failure rates for organizational change implementation range somewhere between 28% to as high as 93% (Candido & Santos, 2008; Bridgeforth, 2000). In his review, Bridgeforth suggests that high reported failure rates have remained essentially unchanged since Greiner's (1967) meta-analysis of change studies reported an average failure rate of 73%. The higher estimates (upwards to 93%) tend to be derived from consulting company reports and executive opinions, although studies of return on investment (ROI) have estimated failure rates of between 60% and 90% (Wong, Chau, Scarbrough & Davison, 2005). Projects are abandoned about 30% of the time; perceived degree of financial objectives not attained is estimated at approximately 33%; joint ventures are said to fail 61% of the time; failed implementation of advanced manufacturing technology approaches, 86% of the time; reduction of business unit costs and improvement of earnings fail to be realized between 55% and 70% of the time; and perceived total quality management implementations fail at the rate of 41% to 93% (Candido & Santos, 2008). Failure rates in the Project Management and Information Technology literature are similar, with rates reported to range between 50% and 90% (Stephens, 2008; Wong, Chau, Scarbrough & Davison, 2005). Elevated failure rates are also prevalent in the reengineering literature (Grover, Jeong & Teng, 1998). Much is known about (a) how to improve strategic decision making, (b) how to successfully to choose a project with a high expected economic return, (c) how to operationalize strategies and projects, and (d) how to apply change management processes to maintain change momentum. Why then do implementation failures persist in such great numbers?

Although there are numerous studies that have examined implementation success and failure, they are inconsistent (a) with respect to their definitions of what constitutes failure, (b) in the criteria they use to judge it, (c) in the industry studied,(d) in the quality of methodology used, and (e) in the unit of analysis (business process, project, strategy, etc). (See Hutzschenreuter & Kleindienst, 2006; Candido & Santos, 2008.) Candido and Santos (2008) acknowledge that true failure rates might be slightly lower than reported because of the high number of perception and estimation investigations; however, they still conclude that failure rates are very high. No one really knows what the true rate of failure is in implementation of projects and strategies and there is no clear model of how to avoid failure (Lally, 2004; Stanislao & Stanislao, 1983; Hrebiniak, 2006; Hutzschenreuter & Kleindienst, 2006). Moreover even though some may suggest that certain types of change initiatives are easier to implement than others, no one knows for sure (Candido & Santos, 2008). This may be one reason why many managers believe it is much more difficult to implement a strategy than to formulate one (Zairi, 1995).

In our view the persistence of failure rates despite ongoing research efforts stems from a general absence of a complete systemic view of implementation failure. We believe that this absence causes a lack of common language or 'common currency' that might allow the respective domain experts in decision making, implementation, and change management to communicate and collaborate with one another. We further suggest that an initial step toward developing a common currency is the development of a taxonomy of potential implementation failure factors that could be measured and shared across these related domains. …

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