One of the top reasons that change programmes crash

“Have you ever led an organisational change programme that seemed to be flying along and then suddenly it faltered and collapsed? The new behaviours all fell away as a crisis hit, or money got tight. The brave new world was forgotten about as the company changed its focus or intention?”

This is what happens when the new vision doesn’t come from a truly aligned, committed sense of truth and purpose. The vision blurs when other fires start, and organisational commitment weakens. The people revert to their previous state.

Permit me, if you will, to make the obligatory COVID-19 analogy to demonstrate what I mean.

Take the climate emergency that we were focused on until recently. When David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II was aired in 2017, and Greta Thunberg went public with her mission in 2018 it felt like a huge shift was taking place. The Western world was on the cusp of changing its acceptable norms, its behaviours and its impact. It felt as if we were turning a corner.

Now jump to the appearance of COVID-19, probably from a wet market in Wuhan. We know that the impact of humans on animals’ habitats, and the subsequent blurring of the environments has a massive link to the day that someone ate they say, an infected pangolin in China, and 2020 took on a new tragic direction.

For me, one of the most striking side-stories of our global response to this crisis, has been a profound and total amnesia about the impact of plastic and waste on the planet. We know it matters, right, but there’s a pandemic.. so let’s build plastic screens to keep the humans safe, and wear disposable PPE & drop masks all over the floor to stop the spread. Produce millions of gallons of hand sanitiser in disposable bottles and spread them everywhere. Forget all we were starting to discuss about reusable everything and get sprinting towards short term safety.

The message that I feel I’ve heard has been that we can’t continue with the climate focus at the same time as dealing with COVID. Let’s drop the climate thing until we’ve finished dealing with the coronavirus. We’ll return to it later when we’ve finished over here. Nothing else matters except coronavirus right now. The planet and its climate have not held their place, front and centre.

In irony, there’s potential for the whole planet to fall into terminal crisis, just as the humans think they’ve cracked COVID. If the mission to ‘save the planet first’ had been a real, heart-led, truth-based passionate goal of the Western leadership, they would’ve found a way to find solutions through the lens of keeping the planet safe too.

The two things are not competitors.

One needs to be the lens through which we see everything. Without a planet, of course, the rest is irrelevant.

Despite a ranty start, my point in this blog is not to ask you to use reusable containers (though, let's do that too). It's to ask you to consider when such a phenomenon has impacted your change missions.

Let’s get back to your workplace. How clear are you in your team or organisation, on what you’re trying to cause with your critical culture change or behaviour change agenda? What comes first? What wins, when you’re deciding how to behave? We're not talking about changing the whole planet here, but your organisational change programme can indeed be life transforming for lives, customers, staff, investors, profits, futures. How does the change story link with your personal values and mission?

What would cause you to forget about it all instantly?

Unless your top leaders truly care about the outcome, your change programme will be as successful as it’s lucky enough to be. If life’s smooth and easy, you’ve got a fairly good chance of pushing through some changes, if they’re attractive enough to enough people.

If however, there’s a gust of wind in the wrong direction, something else will beat your mission instantly. All that you’re aiming for will be gazumped by the next big thing.

Gaining buy in from the whole top team; Exploring every leader’s own personal values and purpose, before aligning those with the mission of the change agenda, is the only way to stand a chance of making it stick.

At Clearworks we often work with lead teams to explore these matters deeply; with courage, clarity and patience. This work can accelerate your progress, mitigate against the bombs that go off in business interrupting culture change, and lead to more alignment more quickly.

If you're an OD or HR leader juggling the demands of all the commercial priorities, messages and opinions it can be near impossible to hold your course. We can help with that. If you’re working with your team, or in L&OD, supporting change agendas, please get in touch. We aim to ease your journey as a team and accelerate progress as you make brave change. Alignment and commitment must come first from the whole-heart, before behaviour change can stand a chance.

This article was written by Aly King-Smith. Aly is Director of Clearworks and writes for Clearworks and others as Aly KS & Co Ltd. Please get in contact via