What happens if failure is an option

Our experience in a change project where there was no desire to change


At the core, organizations consider a change for one of two reasons (or a mixture of both):

  1. There are problems, issues or risks associated with the current state of the organization.
  2. There are opportunities, benefits or rewards from achieving a new state.

If leaders and employees don’t have a problem with the current state nor have a reason to work towards a new state, it can be difficult to motivate organizational change.

LaMarsh Global provided support to an organization that had little desire to leave the current state. Leaders knew there was an opportunity to improve performance, but they viewed the cost of getting to a new state outweighed the payoff. It was easier to remain in the current state.

We focused on improving awareness of the issues that inhibited change and developing foundational change management competency to prepare the organization for future changes.

Here is what we learned about preparing organizations to change – even if there is little desire to change. 


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A division struggling with performance

LaMarsh Global was approached to assist an American division of an international manufacturer that was struggling with product quality and operational performance.

The division was not well-positioned compared to its competitors. Despite high sales and interest from its customers, the division’s operational inefficiencies resulted in higher costs. It was unable to capitalize on an evident potential for growth.

These challenges were known, but they were often ignored instead of rectified. If the division missed its performance targets, the parent company had the means to cover revenue shortfalls and employees still received incentives.

Change management experts from LaMarsh Global assessed the division to understand the internal factors contributing to the inefficiencies.

Employee complacency was the norm

The division had a dangerously low turnover of employees because leaders did not address performance and behavioral issues. Current employees were moved around from position to position in an attempt to resolve poor performance. Newer employers often became frustrated and left the company, or they followed the norm and became complacent when the division lost money or ignored quality issues.

The challenges were compounded by differences in culture and leadership styles between the parent company and the American division. The same tactics and approaches had different results.

Employees and leaders recognized the division was not performing at a level that it could be, but few people had suggestions on what to do differently. Failure was an option and even okay.



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Nurturing a desire to change

The division was solidified in the current state because there was little desire to migrate to a new state.

Even though leaders wanted to improve quality and profits, there was little incentive to go through a change. The parent company could cover any revenue shortfalls, and employees were being rewarded for the current level of performance.

To overcome this challenge, LaMarsh Global supported a major assessment of the current state of the division and developed a definition for the desired state.

Assess the current state

The current state assessment reviewed the division for risks that contributed to its performance challenges, and found:

  • Inadequate HR support and infrastructure
  • Leadership styles and lack of vision
  • Organizational structure was not aligned to strategic goals
  • Lack of defined corporate culture
  • Lack of clear communication
  • Division addresses symptoms of problems, not the actual problems
  • Management was ineffective
  • Lack of defined processes

The assessment uncovered that nearly every leader and employee acknowledged that performance and behavior changes were necessary, but no interviewee believed that they needed to change. 

Define a desired state

The division did not have strategic goals, making it difficult to define the desired state. A definition of the desired state was developed by understanding what leaders wanted the division to look like in ten years in the future, and this was compared to the issues uncovered during the current state assessment. 

LaMarsh Global provided recommendations to resolve or manage the challenges that were the largest barrier to change.

One of the top recommendations was to rebuild the division’s HR infrastructure. A previous downsizing had a major impact to the processes for training, performance management, hiring and onboarding. It was clear that the desired state included strong HR support and infrastructure.  

Another theme of the desired state was aligning sales with the division’s manufacturing capability and profitability. Leaders wanted to no longer sell what they can’t manufacture at a profit, while also accounting for sufficient margins to enable competitive innovation.   

The desired state of leadership was also considered. This helped to define and better understand the essential role of leaders in achieving business goals.


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The first steps towards change readiness

The division was firmly rooted in the current state. LaMarsh Global contributed to the awareness of the impacts of the current state while improving the understanding of the benefits of achieving the desired state.

Leaders became more aware of the lack of desire to change or contentment with the current situation. LaMarsh Global also contributed to improving the understanding of the complexity and breadth of problems throughout the division. There was more clarity on the desired state, and we developed some change management competency.

In the end, the project did not result in a major organizational transformation. LaMarsh Global laid the foundation to prepare the division for change – when people want to change.

The division took the first steps towards change readiness. 

Foundation for change

Successful change relies on these factors to be in place:

  1. Need desire for the new state
  2. Need business case for change
  3. People have to want to change
  4. The company needs to be ready for change with the necessary structure, culture and incentives to support change
  5. The current state cannot be so comfortable that people don’t want to leave it

The division required more time, effort and resources to be ready for change, but it had improved clarity on what was missing and what to do next.


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