Eric summarizes Kotter saying that complacency and a misdirected sense of urgency are some of the main reasons organizational change efforts fail. I take a different view. I say powerful, mid-level managers in organizations, the ones who actually get the work of the business done, often times do not want to change. Change may well be necessary and beneficial for the organization as a whole, but that doesn't mean it's good for everyone in the organization.
Now, please note, I have not yet read Kotter's book, but if anyone takes a stand, the Irish blood I got from my mother compels me to take a different view, if only for the sake of the argument. (and I have a long list of ex-girlfriends to show how beneficial this is...)
Under the Tops and the Bottoms
If you're at the top of an organization, an executive or a board member, you look across the marketplace and see the different customer groups, their different requirements and the revenue benefits of meeting those new requirements. Its very easy to see the benefits for change and exciting to demonstrate your strategic ability to align your company with new markets to drive greater growth.
If you're new to an organization and looking for ways to advance, change presents opportunity. You welcome and embrace change. New markets, new processes, new systems and structures all present great ways to be more effective and be recognized by people at the top of the house.
These two groups are nicely aligned with wanting change.
What about the middles?
If you sit in the middle of an organization, you know the current customers. You know what they want and your job is satisfying their current needs. They are the people who pay the bills today. For all the potential that the tops see and which might even exist, you can't eat potential. Your current customers don't care about the new opportunities. Not to mention the fact that the executives may well be disconnected from the realities of the business or in some cases, from reality at all... [Editor: two paragraphs of vitriolic ranting were deleted to prevent lawsuits being filed.]
Why change fails
There are many reasons change fails: misguided executives, misalignment with current customer requirements, misalignment with current processes and structures etc. This is not a new phenomenon.
We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.
- Petronius Arbiter, 210 B.C.