Idea in Brief

The Problem

Although companies frequently engage in transformation initiatives, few are actually transformative. Research indicates that only 12% of major change programs produce lasting results.

Why It Happens

Leaders are increasingly content with incremental improvements. As a result, they experience fewer outright failures but equally fewer real transformations.

The Solution

To deliver, change programs must treat transformation as a continuous process, build it into the company’s operating rhythm, explicitly manage organizational energy, state aspirations rather than set targets, drive change from the middle out, and be funded by serious capital investments.

Nearly every major corporation has embarked on some sort of transformation in recent years. By our estimates, at any given time more than a third of large organizations have a transformation program underway. When asked, roughly 50% of CEOs we’ve interviewed report that their company has undertaken two or more major change efforts within the past five years, with nearly 20% reporting three or more.

A version of this article appeared in the May–June 2024 issue of Harvard Business Review.