Why is change so hard? And how can it be made easy? In this thought-provoking blog post, our Chief Strategy Officer, Colin Sloman, delves into the challenges of change and offers insights on how to make it easier. Drawing on his expertise in change management, transformational change, and behavioral science, Colin shares captivating stories of both failures and successes in the realm of change. Join him as he explores the evolution of change and its ongoing impact on organizations. 


Ever since I became a change practitioner over 30 years ago, I've had the stat that "70% of change projects fail" thrown about. However, it's hard to find the source of the statement or where the statistics apply. What’s the definition of failure, anyway? If it includes fully-achieved business cases or project goals, then I guess the number would be even higher! Nonetheless, the sentiment behind the statistic appears to hold true. However, this statistic does not seem to discourage organizations from launching change projects. And in the face of relentless waves of change in operating models, technology, and ways of working, employee fatigue increases and patience dwindles. According to this HBR article, there is a 'transformation deficit' emerging, and "employees' willingness to support enterprise change has collapsed to just 43% in 2022, compared to 74% in 2016."

We know that a useful approach to address a complex problem is to break it down into smaller, more manageable parts. Commonly referred to as 'chunking' or the ‘how to eat an elephant’ solution. This bite-sized approach to change is useful but not sufficient to guarantee success, especially for large organizations. 

Deconstructing change into manageable parts requires a clear understanding of the complex problem and its dependencies, effective coordination, and the ability to reintegrate everything into a coherent solution. If you're a rugby fan, you'll appreciate this being akin to moving the ball over the goal line one phase at a time, with the weight of an opposing force against you as a constant. 

The resistance to change – that force slowing down progress – sets in as organizational inertia. 'The way we've always done things' is familiar, comfortable, and known. Innovation runs dry, and transformation backslides. This sets the scene for a blindside from an up-and-coming competitor or disruptor. I'm reminded of moments like these in famous quotes, often taken out of context, that lay bare the irony of time and change being at odds: 

"We're in pretty good shape for the next 50 years." – Kodak CEO, George M. C. Fisher, in 2000, overlooking the rapid rise of digital photography that would later lead to the decline of traditional film.

"There's no chance the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." – Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, in 2007, underestimated the potential of the iPhone.

Epic stories about change failures are not hard to find. People and organizations get stuck in their ways and, in some cases, refuse to accept potential disruptive forces that lie just around the corner. Existential threats have become more visible, and many of us have lived through a number of them in recent times: the 2007–2008 financial meltdown, the e-commerce revolution, the sharing economy, mobile, the rise of social media, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. 

So, where does it all unravel? At the start, organizations do not define the change in a way people can understand (Meaning), give clear directions as to what we want them to do (Guidance and Action), or give them time to shape the change, practice, and absorb what we want them to do in a meaningful way (Connection, Contribution, Commitment, and Reflection). The main issue is that we are not being specific and clear enough about what we want people to do differently, and we don’t give them time to act and reflect. In this post, Cognician's co-founder, Patrick Kayton, discusses our unique approach to behavior change and how it can improve your change initiatives using the Activation framework.

All change programs are different, but they often fail or falter due to some common themes, including:
  • Resistance from employees to make the change
  • Lack of leadership support for the change 
  • Lack of buy-in and commitment from line management 
  • Lack of communication as to why, what, and how  
  • Lack of clear guidance as to what people should do
When we engage in conversations with our clients about where change has stalled or stopped, we begin by asking, “What behaviors do you need to activate in management, employees, and leaders?”. 

Here's an example: An international services organization approached Cognician to help get employees to rapidly adopt new human capital management software and use it the right way. Midway through the rollout of the new software, the organization realized that it was carrying inefficiencies from the old way to the new way. It needed to speed up the change and ensure it was effective. So, over 15 days, users were directed to accept a challenge that contained a micro-action via Cognician's digital platform. Then, an avatar guided the user through the day's activity, using a chat-like interaction. Each daily challenge took about 10 minutes to complete. 

Within 15 days, Cognician helped the organization increase adoption by 32%. Only 5–10 minutes a day, one bite at a time. By focusing on behavioral change, the program helped speed up the adoption of the new software and processes. Plus, the organization reduced the number of time-entry mistakes and HR administrative overhead. 

By bringing its people along and giving them things to do and think about, there was a dramatic improvement in a very short timeframe. This outcome is not unusual with our programs. We attribute this to our focus on specific behaviors and mindsets and giving people specific actions they find meaningful. 

Hard-to-solve problems such as culture, leadership behaviors, and new ways of working can be addressed using our approach, which encourages people to think, feel, and act differently. By letting people reflect on what they've discovered, change can be simplified. Imagine! Change made easy. For each sticking point in a change program, there's a lever that engages people and helps employees find meaning in the transformation they're undergoing. It helps people understand why the change needs to occur rather than resisting or remaining unaware of it. At Cognician, these activation catalysts reduce the time it takes for change to take effect and have an immediate impact. 

For leaders and change managers looking to leave a positive legacy of change, let us help you make it happen at pace and scale using our Activation methods. Instead of ironic failings, history will highlight the changes that made all the difference. Let's work together to move the 30% needle on change projects that succeed. 

Read about the successful change management programs we've developed here: resources. To activate employee behavior change, contact us here: book a call.