Five Reasons Organization Redesigns Fail to Deliver

It’s not merely enough to have a carefully thought-out blueprint for successfully aligning your organization; you also need to understand the pitfalls that can derail the best-laid redesign plans. According to research by McKinsey, “less than a quarter of organizational-redesign efforts succeed. Forty-four percent run out of steam after getting underway, while a third fail to meet objectives or improve performance after implementation.”

The reasons for failure can be organizational or behavioral. Whatever the underlying cause, once an organization redesign starts to falter, it can create a domino effect that ends in an unsatisfactory or incomplete result. Here are five of the most common reasons a redesign fails to deliver its expected results.

Initiating a redesign for optics instead of strategy. The first reason organization designs fail to deliver is there is a lack of connection to a specific strategy. Put another way, sometimes leaders feel under pressure to show their competence by doing … something. So they move things around just for the sake of appearances. Or because they have a fear of looking behind the times if they don’t follow a current trend they see among the competition. But any redesign must be linked to the organization’s strategy, or else there will be an inherent disconnect.

Failing to teach and engage leaders to be Alignment Leaders. An Alignment Leader®—someone who proactively champions the organizational redesign—is not so much a position as it is a role that requires four integral competencies: making trade-offs, ensuring alignment, driving change effectively, and building Alignment Leader capabilities in others. The better a leader plays the role of an Alignment Leader, the better they will be at shepherding an organization redesign. When a leader doesn’t understand the importance of the role, it will be much more difficult to deliver the sought-after change objectives.

Boxology: getting tunnel-vision on one aspect of organization redesign. This is the belief that simply redrawing the boxes on an organization chart is the secret to better results. Some leaders only ever address structure in an organization redesign. But that’s like trying to have one side of a Rubik’s Cube a uniform color and ignoring the other sides of the cube. There is a lot more to a redesign than just moving people around, or changing the deck chairs; it’s positioning the organization to deliver strategy, so while yes, that might mean sometimes moving the structure around, it will more than likely also mean changing other things like work processes, performance metrics, culture, and talent among others things.

Not pushing for true behavioral change. Organization redesign is more than realigning processes, structures, systems, and policies. You also need to change the thinking, behaviors, and performance of people; otherwise, results won’t change. Put another way, without a connection between desired results, organization choices, and behavior, your redesign will likely fail to deliver as hoped. So as change is implemented throughout the organization, results need to be monitored and adaptations made as necessary to ensure true, sustainable behavioral change is taking place.

Avoiding necessary trade-offs. This is the organization redesign equivalent of trying to have your cake and eat it too. Organization redesign is an exercise in making trade-offs, prioritizing what is most important to a successful realignment. That means taking something considered valuable or meaningful to some people but that in the big picture is strategically expendable in order to get a successful redesign.  Not making these trade-offs makes it difficult to put the necessary focus on the work that makes a difference facilitating effective change.

Nowhere is the adage to be forewarned is to be forearmed more apropos than in an organization redesign. By avoiding the oversights that can undermine the best intentions, you can lead your organization to a realignment that delivers on all your strategic goals.