August 17, 2020

Why transformation fails and how to overcome it

Strategy, engagement, transparency and momentum are key elements for success in transformation


We constantly face changes in our daily lives, and the way we run our businesses is no exception. To keep up with change, we must transform ourselves, both as individuals and as an organization.


Organizations tackle people and organizational transformation differently, but whichever method they use, the important thing is not only to make it a priority but also to make sure the transformation takes hold permanently.


Sometimes, organizations put a lot of effort into transforming themselves and their people but not many changes. We are left to wonder what went wrong during the process.


What possible reasons are there that could cause people and organizational transformation to fail?


There is no proper strategy

In most cases, organizations react to change rather than take a proactive approach by moving with change. When this happens, organizational change can seem too sudden to people and cause a lot of disruption in the workplace.


Change is already difficult for people, so when the organization changes suddenly, this can result in low motivation and productivity. Ultimately, this costs the business a lot more than if leaders had initially planned and invested in a strategy to make sure the organization could move with change.


There is no engagement or conversation


The problem many organizations face is a lack of engagement with employees. Often, an announcement is rolled out across the organization without any prior conversation.


A conversation in this context doesn’t necessarily have to be one-one-one unless necessary, but it is important to allow employees to have some say. Of course, there will always be some elements of the business that the management has decision-making power over, but failure to open a dialogue with our people can show a lack of care toward them. Consequently, any effort to move with change could backfire if the right conversations have not taken place.


There is no transparency


This relates to conversation and engagement, but more importantly to communicating clearly the why and how of the future changes that are going to happen in the organization.


The problem, however, is that many organizations do not communicate their reasons and next steps clearly. This results in skepticism from everyone in the organization; some ay thinks the decisions being taken are irrational or unfair to those directly affected.


There can sometimes be a lack of momentum once transformation begins


While beginning transformation is tough enough, maintaining it can bring in a new set of problems. Many organizations might see transformation as a one-time thing but in reality, it isn’t.


A big part of people’s transformation is learning new practical knowledge to upgrade and update existing skills, or developing new skills to become more effective at the tasks the organization requires. But with learning, we can’t just offer a one-off training program and expect our people and our organization to transform and find greater opportunities. This is when we fail.


There is a lack of focus on transitioning


While many organizations are focused on starting the change process and getting results immediately, there’s often not enough focus on giving people the time and tools to make a complete transition.


While some problems are unavoidable, we must make efforts to reduce the chances of failure during the transformation process.


How can we overcome the challenges of transforming ourselves, our people, and the organization?


One way is to plan a strategy that covers everything. This includes how to communicate and be transparent to your people, down to the tools they can use to make the transition. Another element to think about is integrating continuous learning as a culture within the organization. Finally, ensure that you maintain open communications to give your people a safe space to open up about their concerns.


Ultimately, transformation is essential for any organization that wants to keep up with change and disruption. To succeed in this effort, the people in the organization are the key. This is why it is crucial for organizations to see their employees as people as with their own goals and motivations, rather than someone they simply pay to do work. 


The key to transformation isn’t about how well an organization manages it. It is about how well it’s able to get people from management to operations on board.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC – Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Explore and experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at