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This chapter is from the book

Does All Change Fail the Same?

Change failure rates do seem to vary by the type of change attempted. UK researcher Dr. Martin Smith summarized 49 separate studies of change success from the academic and trade press and found the kind of variability we might expect.6 See Table 1.1.

Table 1.1 Success Rates of Different Types of Change Programs

TYPE OF CHANGE

NUMBER OF STUDIES

MEDIAN SUCCESS RATE

Strategy deployment

3

58%

Restructuring/downsizing

9

46%

Technology change

5

40%

Mixed change

1

39%

TQM (Six Sigma)

5

37%

Mergers and acquisitions

9

33%

Reengineering/process design

7

30%

Software development/installation

6

26%

Business expansion

1

20%

Culture change

3

19%

Total

49

Surveys of this small number of firms are underpowered statistically and limited as scientific evidence, yet the numbers suggest failure rates just below 50 percent, with culture change (as expected) the most fraught.

Leaders need estimates such as this before attempting something like culture change: Do we expect to do better than the average 19 percent success rate? Why? If I may add to that number anecdotally, I often say that if I had $100 dollars for every time someone said “we have to change the culture” and I had to give back $10,000 every time I saw culture change succeed, I would be well ahead.

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