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The 5 Lessons of Top Change Leaders


Leading change requires different skills than leading regular operations.  That's why enterprise projects such as technology implementations, acquisition integrations, and operational transformation can be so challenging.  The outcomes of countless studies point to the persistence of this problem:

  • The Standish Group’s Chaos Report states that 40-50% of projects are considered challenged, while 30-40% of IT projects are considered outright failures.  Gartner reports that 15-20% are considered failures.

  • McKinsey & Company suggests that around 70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their goals, with resistance to the change being a primary reason

  • The Standish Group also indicates that 64% of projects are completed behind schedule and over budget. The Project Management Institute (PMI)j reports organizations waste an average of 10% of project investment due to poor project performance.

  • PMI reports that only 65% of projects meet customer objectives.

So, what are the factors that lead to success? 


The research has shown the project success is NOT correlated with:

  • The use of structured methodologies,

  • The education or certifications of change leaders,

  • The years of experience of change leaders.

  • (Although all of the above do prevent some downside risk of failure.)

Instead . . . 


The research has shown that the quality of leadership is the difference between success and failure. This is particularly true of when leaders demonstrate relations-oriented leadership, leadership that is focused on supporting, motivating and developing the people on their teams and the relationships within.

Solleva's study, The 5 Lessons of Top Change Leaders, supported these findings and identified five lessons that when applied, lead to project success:

  1. It's All About the Relationships

    • More than any other factor, change leaders pointed to the importance of managing organization relationships as the key difference maker.  This included:​

      • Actively and personally engaging with stakeholders – building time into project plans for two-way, one-on-one and group discussions.

      • Listening, particularly to needs – spending time understanding stakeholder problems, pain points in their operation, their wish lists to make life easier, AND

      • Facilitating learning and commitment – when leaders listen to stakeholder needs, stakeholders are more open to understanding the needs of others in the organization.  And when they are ready to expand their understanding, leaders have the ability to develop shared perspectives.

  2. Your Solution Is Incomplete

    • Projects often are solutions to specific "symptoms" and may not solve underlying, root-cause problems of greater value to stakeholders.​ For example, new technology may provide new features and capability, but it still requires broader process and role redesign to solve the root causes required for streamlined operations. 

    • Leaders who built time into projects to understand these related challenges and expand project plans to integrate additional solutioning created more successful outcomes.

  3. Uncertainty Is Strength

    • There is power in transparency and the truth of not knowing all the answers because it provides opportunities for stakeholder engagement (which, in turn, strengthens relationships--Lesson #1).

    • When stakeholders create solutions, then they are committed to them.

    • Leaders who facilitated a process where stakeholders defined the problems and created the solutions found increased engagement and greater commitment.

  4. Alignment Is Essential

    • Top change leaders found that projects were more likely to be successful when stakeholders were aligned in their view of the problems and solutions. 

    • To accomplish this, top change leaders built action into their project plans to facilitate a process to generate this alignment. They caution, however, that alignment is an iterative process and may take time.

    • The also learned that goals, measures and benchmarks were particularly effective for alignment by focusing stakeholder attention. 

  5. Top Change Is Not Top-Down

    • Commitment is not achieved through coercion or verbal influence (compliance is).

    • When project leaders gave up control of the content and instead led the process, stakeholders most often generated ideas that led to better results as well as increased commitment.

    • The additional benefit is that when you make this shift, your “directive” recommendations and actions become more desired and effective.



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