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Several Key Factors Contribute to “Change Failure”

By David Burton, 

Civic Communications Specialist

University of Missouri Extension

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Change is a popular word but why does change so often fail? David Burton, county engagement specialist in community development with University of Missouri Extension, says there are several key factors for “change failure.”

“There are certain things organizations and companies need to consider when implementing changes,” said Burton, a frequent speaker on the topic.

Lack of leadership agreement on change strategies and employee resistance are the key barriers to change.

According to Burton, for change to happen, upfront, honest debate on unresolved differences is critical. It is also important to avoid environments that make strategic planning a “yes” exercise.

“If approved without agreement, nothing happens, and the organization will fall into the change victim mode,” said Burton.

True consensus is the price of total commitment to the needed change strategies.

“Managed conflict is healthy, and strategies created behind closed doors then dealt down as directives will create a slog of employee resistance,” said Burton.

Culture is largely hidden from sight, but it is the foundation for what leaders do.

Culture is not strategy or initiatives. Strategy is of the head, but culture is of the heart.

“Without careful management, it is the heart that usually prevails-the result is misalignment. Strategy is headed in one direction and culture in another,” said Burton.

Taking time to understand an organizations culture is important, but that doesn’t mean the current culture is the best, especially if it causes people to be unproductive.

Increased interdependence among organizational units, understanding the dynamics of positive employee involvement, and increased focus on human resource training and development are vital to successful change.

“Employees who espouse and are involved in the change process should be rewarded and promoted into leadership positions,” said Burton.

There are a variety of ways that this can be done.

Successful change makers continually communicate the power of purpose. How will the change improve the organization’s mission or culture statement?

“If employees feel left out of the discussion then communication is not taking place,” said Burton.

In the absence of communication, other things will occur. For example, internal rumors and internal campaigning for positions of power.

“The research is pretty overwhelming on this,” said Burton. “You have to over-communicate to the point that everyone is on the same page.”

Surviving change means a commitment to action and involvement of the innovative spirit of your most valuable resource-your people who serve the customer.

“Assure that the change strategies create better customer service. Otherwise, it is a futile exercise in changing for change sake-the deadliest barrier of all,” said Burton.

If culture change is required, it is also necessary to either take a long-term approach or to get rid of some employees.

“I always think taking the long-term approach with long-term goals to achieve the vision is best, but that is not the only option,” said Burton.

Community development specialists with MU Extension help people create communities of the future by tapping into local strengths and university resources. The Community Development Program works collaboratively with communities to foster economic development, leadership development, community decision making and community emergency preparedness.

For more information about the EXCEL leadership program Greene County contact David Burton by phone at (417) 881-8909, by email at, or see information on the county extension website page at