How to Predict the Success of a Change Initiative

How to predict the success of a change initiative.

Change. It’s a constant.

Embracing change is not just a necessity but a survival strategy in the dynamic landscape of today’s organizations.

Having served as a change agent for over two decades, I’ve discerned a distinct pattern that swiftly provides insights into the trajectory of any change initiative.

The success of a change initiative is limited to the level of the organization that has not only been trained, but has ACCEPTED the training and is ACTIVELY making adjustments to the way they work.

In other words, if the Vice Presidents have been trained and they accept the training, initiating tangible changes in their approach, the change initiative will be successful up to that level of the organization.

However, should the training focus only on individual contributors and managers, the change initiative’s success will be limited.

Expanding beyond that level will encounter impenetrable roadblocks within the organization. Understanding and strategically addressing these dynamics early on is key to steering change initiatives toward success.

Star Wars Galactic Empire Org Chart
Where is the training happening in the org?

Leaders are the ones who have the courage to go first, to put themselves at personal risk to open a path for others to follow.

Simon Sinek – May 3, 2020

Leaders aspiring to reap the benefits of a change must take the lead by being the first to undergo training and adapting their work approach. Their ability to swiftly align and inspire hundreds of workers can significantly facilitate the change adoption process.

Teams and individual contributors keenly observe when leaders merely pay ‘lip service’ to a change, without fundamentally altering their work habits.

This not only sends a clear signal that leaders lack true belief in the change but also triggers frustration across all levels.

The ensuing confusion will lead to lower productivity, fostering a collective desire to revert to familiar, pre-change practices.

Leaders don't lead from the back!
Leaders don’t lead from the back!

Leadership encompasses guiding, pioneering, and setting the course for success, as leaders take the forefront, leading by example, and paving the way for those under their care.

When I see leaders backing away from training, my “spider-sense” immediately goes to 10!

Let me share a real world example:

In the realm of a major retailer, the initial foray into an agile, customer-centric transformation was a grassroots initiative spearheaded by the IT department. The journey had its successes for about two years but hit a roadblock when attempting to extend beyond IT into the broader business

After navigating about two more years in what I dubbed ‘change purgatory,’ a pivotal shift occurred when the Finance organization recognized the imperative of embracing an agile approach.

This strategic pivot not only reignited the transformation but was directly credited for the organization’s resilience and success against the looming threat of online competition poised to replace traditional retail.

And now this retailer is accelerating past their online competition by leveraging the presence of their brick and mortar stores.

So, how can we address this challenge?

I’ve discovered that leaders, especially those attuned to numbers and financial outcomes, respond best when the value of change is quantified. Every aspect of change can be distilled into a tangible number – just consult any Finance expert in your company.

Show me the money!
What motivates a leader to change?

After about 2 more years in “change purgatory”, the Finance organization determined an agile approach was needed. This was the spark that reignited the transformation and was directly attributed to the survival, and thriving, against online competition that was forecast to replace all retail.

By spearheading the change, these select few can serve as catalysts, enabling and empowering thousands. The investment of their time can yield returns up to 50 times over.

Moreover, it positions leaders to navigate and empathize with their teams when encountering the inevitable challenges that accompany any change. This not only fosters a bond between leaders and their teams but propels them forward amidst uncertainty, ensuring sustained progress.

Grassroots changes can indeed make a substantial impact, but none compare to the influence exerted when the organization’s leaders take the lead. Leaders hold the exclusive capability to alter policies, allocate funding, and implement organizational changes that foster success.

I implore you not to be discouraged from instigating change, but it’s crucial to note that without leadership buy-in (beyond mere sponsorship), the impact remains constrained.

A re-evaluation of where to invest your limited time and expertise might be prudent in such cases.

How do you overcome this challenge?

Please put your experiences and ideas in the comments or send me a note at

Have a valuable week!

Your friendly neighborhood product owner, Tom

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