“The heart has reasons that reason cannot know.”
The clock already has begun ticking away toward the day when your organization announces it’s decided to pursue a major change.
In some e-mail, conference call or all-up meeting, you’ll soon learn that your company is about to re-organize reporting structures, significantly alter its strategic and cultural direction, or launch a new product line.
What you should know in advance of this communication is that the far majority of firms fail in their attempts at implementing major changes like these – simply because they’re unaware of the one ingredient that assures its success. A Harvard professor has discovered what differentiates those who truly succeed when implementing change and his answer may surprise you.
In 1980, at age 33, John Kotter was given tenure and a full professorship at Harvard’s Business School, making him one of the youngest people in the history of the university to be so honored. Around that same time, he became convinced that the rate of change in business had begun to rapidly accelerate from historic norms (largely because of technological breakthroughs) and wondered if companies would be skilled at responding.
What Kotter discovered is that, “on average, people were terrible at it.” Through his research, he compiled 100 examples of organizations that had sought to transform themselves in some major way, and discovered 70% were failures. “If you look at their aspirations and what they said they were going to do,” he told me recently, “it just didn’t happen.”
Grading the remaining firms, Kotter said “25% achieved something – but nothing close to their original aspirations. Only 5% were really successful at implementing their original vision.”
Gifted at qualitative pattern analysis, Kotter began a deep dive into understanding the practices of the successful. He later distilled all he learned in his book, Leading Change, named by Time Magazine as one of the “25 Most Influential Business and Management Books of All Time.” And its in Kotter’s book, published in 1996, that we find what’s perhaps the earliest example of an academic stressing that leadership that ignores the hearts in people cannot possibly succeed.