While employers believe a majority of their change management programs succeed initially, a new survey by global professional services company Towers Watson reveals that only a quarter of organisations are able to keep the momentum going over the long term. The survey blames the lack of continued success in change management initiatives partly on companies’ inability to prepare and train managers to be effective change leaders.

The 2013 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Survey found that over half of employers (55%) say of their change management initiatives meet their initial objectives. However, only one-in-four (25%) respondents say they are able to sustain gains from their change management initiatives over the long term. Change management initiatives can range from programme or policy changes, to business transformation, and mergers and acquisitions.

“Most companies are having a difficult time keeping the momentum of their change management initiatives going,” said Nicola Cull, a senior change management consultant at Towers Watson. “The organisations that are able to sustain change over time are those that focus on the fundamentals that we know drive successful change: communication, training, leadership engagement and measurement. And despite nearly uniform acceptance that these are the key drivers of change, the companies that are not good at them are not getting any better.”

The survey also found that most companies recognise that managers have an important role to play in managing change. Despite nearly nine out of 10 respondents (87%) claiming to train their managers to manage change, less than a quarter (22%) report their training is effective.

“Managers are a catalyst for successful change. Now is the ideal time for organisations to look at this lingering problem from a new angle, focusing on the manager’s role. For managers to succeed at spearheading change, companies need to change their approach, train managers more effectively and do a much better job of communicating with them,” said Cull.

Indeed, Towers Watson research shows that only two-thirds (68%) of senior managers say they understand the reasons behind major organisational decisions. Below the senior management level, the message dwindles further. Only half (53%) of middle managers and 40 per cent of first-line supervisors say their management does a good job of explaining the reasons behind major decisions.

“To prepare managers for their role as successful change leaders, companies must ensure that they focus on informing, engaging and enabling their employees. Managers need to understand why people resist change and acknowledge that they themselves are likely to resist change. They also need to be visible, engage in dialogue with their team early and often, and ensure that employees feel like they have a stake in the success of the organisation,” said Cull.

About the Survey

The 2013 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Survey was conducted in June 2013. A total of 276 large and midsize organizations from across North America, Europe and Asia participated.