Why Most Change Management Fails — and How to Do Better

October, 2023

How many times have you been on this carousel ride: The boss announces that things “need to change.” High-priced consultants are called in to examine the problem and create a report. These meetings happen behind closed doors. In the end, new processes are rolled out company-wide. The answer is almost always change the technology, change the process, change the leader, change the org chart, change the vendor, change the whatever. Yet, after the expert’s report is written and the changes are rolled out, the original problem persists. No matter how it’s pitched, most “change management” leads right to where you started. 

We might roll our eyes, but this lack of effective change management training is actually a Big F****** Deal for your company. Business agility is considered one of the most critical skills for both leaders and organizations today. If businesses don’t change, they die. Yet turning away from “what we’ve always done” can seem impossible. 

Before real change can happen, leaders and organizations need to understand and identify their underlying patterns of operating. In the absence of this deep dive, we get the same old top-down approaches with slight adjustments that don’t convince anyone. When leaders speak of change without dealing with the fundamental way in which they operate, employees tune out. 

Unstoppable Conversations advises leaders to first discover their hidden and taken-for-granted assumptions that form the “box” around their thinking. In this Q&A, Unstoppable speaks with co-founder Vik Maraj about why most change management fails and what businesses need to do now to adapt and thrive.


Q&A with Unstoppable Co-Founder Vik Maraj


Unstoppable Conversations: Why should business leaders care about change management? 

Vik Maraj: One word: survival. Sixty years ago, the notion of built to last was fair, but nothing’s built to last anymore. Today, we see AI technology changing everything. Before the AI disruption, it was streaming content, the death of data privacy,  globalization, the Internet. Each of these tectonic shifts was initially resisted. And what still holds true is that if organizations don’t change, they die. 

Covid made this super apparent. A lot of businesses got wiped out. Businesses not only in the same industry but with the same market share, same revenue, same rough employee count— some survived, some didn’t. Why did one company live and another die? That is not a function of anything other than their mindset about change and their capacity to change. If you don’t master this competence, you are nuts.

UC: Why do most “change management” projects fail?

VM: The No. 1 problem is the people who will wind up living with the change aren’t the ones empowered to drive it. Words like “explaining,” “adoption,” and “resistance” come into play. We are explaining the change to them. How fast can we get them to adopt the change? Are they resisting the change? 

By the time employees become a meaningful part of the conversation, the organization is far downstream from the inception of the change. Traditional timelines have the change hit top-line management, mid-management, supervisory frontline management, and finally the frontline workers. But rumors fly at the speed of light before any formal release of information. Whatever the executives think they’re perfecting in the boardroom, leaks have already happened. And in the absence of any meaningful information, everybody in the organization makes up their interpretation of “what it all means.” So by the time the real information hits the front line, it’s up against a rumor that has solidified over time. 

UC: So what does leadership need to do differently to deliver on change or adaptability? 


Change requires great leadership. The first question is, what is our learned pattern for leading and how effective is it? Spoiler alert: It’s not effective. 

Most leadership is more about informing than involving. That’s how leadership is modeled throughout life: mommy and daddy tell you what to do, teacher tells you what to do, and then, of course, boss should tell you what to do. There’s almost no other pattern people are familiar with. So both the boss and employee expect that model, because that’s the archetype they’ve had their whole damn life.

We need to move past that part of old-school leadership. What kind of leadership is appropriate and required to lead people from the known to the unknown. What kind of leadership is a match for fulfilling a promise to make something better with no tangible evidence to back it up yet? The answer is a distinct kind of leadership.


Change requires great leadership. The first question is, what is our learned pattern for leading and how effective is it? Spoiler alert: It’s not effective. 


– Vik Maraj, Co-founder, Unstoppable Conversations


UC: How is Unstoppable’s approach to leadership different? 

VM: Companies typically engage with us when somebody in the organization, most often a senior leader, sees the need for a change — they see the competition, the market shift, or the technological advancement that is a potential threat. That person rings the alarm bell. They may even think they know the solution. But the problem is that top leaders are the least trusted in every survey. People trust the CEO less than their frontline manager because the manager is the person they’re with all day long. 

Rather than trying to convince everybody to just get on board with what this senior person is saying, Unstoppable’s approach is to take that vision or threat to the people — to get the whole picture from a sample of everyone. Ask them what they see as the limitations, barriers, or threats. Talk to people organization-wide and get their views, so it’s not limited to the bias of one person with their unique accountability and limited view.

Often the person who raised the alarm bell wants us to just get on with solving the problem. But it’s folly to “just get started.” Gathering this information from those who will be impacted by the change is a critical component of not only getting buy-in (so whatever the ultimate solution is will actually work) but also of seeing the problem or issue from all sides. Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” Most companies are addicted to taking action or hiring mainstream experts who advise them to do what others did. Most senior leaders don’t spend the “55 minutes” to really understand what got them there.

UC: Ok, so what happens next? 

VM: When the data comes back from the people, it almost always falls into three categories: some that’s obvious; some that demonstrates a depth or breadth of the issue beyond what leadership understood; and some that is brand new. This data gets combined with what the senior leadership sees as threatening, and now there’s something to communicate that includes peoples’ views as well as what the leader sees. 

Now we can unite to make sure that the threat doesn’t get communicated or executed in a way that is irrelevant to what people are dealing with on the ground. In this way, the person at the top gets educated by the people on the ground, and the people on the ground get educated, too.

All of a sudden, it’s everyone coming together for a future that is our future. Then from across ranks, a small coalition is built that everybody trusts. That’s crucial. 

We have to build a team that is trusted by the whole organization — that is empowered and given a mandate by everybody to drive the change. Not the consultant, HR, or the top dog. The people drive their own change.


All of a sudden, it’s everyone coming together for a future that is our future. Then from across ranks, a small coalition is built that everybody trusts. That’s crucial. 


– Vik Maraj, Co-founder, Unstoppable Conversations


UC: How does this process lead to whole new ways of thinking and potential solutions? 

VM: Once the coalition is built, the work can start to focus on the “stuck” mentality that many people and organizations have. Every organization has all kinds of processes, practices, and assumptions that have been there for years — that shape the way they approach business. It’s a valid, past-derived mentality that got us here and should be honored, but if we stick with that mentality, it prevents any thinking outside of its box. 

All of that historical thinking must get uncovered and named. Transformation is breaking into a whole new domain of thinking, all new ways of being. Employees are familiar with what got us here, and they know the more we execute on the familiar, the more we’re going to get the familiar symptoms. They need to see that it isn’t just them being asked to do a new process, it’s a fundamental change that opens new paths beyond the “I’m right, listen to me” model. 

If your next strategic plan is created using the same mindset you’ve always used, it’s not strategic. It’s just another plan. This is the secret sauce of Unstoppable. We enable organizations to name the intangible mentality that got them here. Then we play a role in developing, training, and coaching them in how to be effective and develop entirely new systems, behaviors, assets, and results that before would have been impossible.


Vik Maraj is a co-founder of Unstoppable and serves as Head of Design and Delivery.

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