How do you measure change success?

by Oct 12, 2018

  • Change is far too complex to be measured by a simple Yes/No – we did it or we didn’t.
  • The success of implementing the change process can be measured pretty quickly, but more authentic measures about whether the change has achieved its desired outcomes will take time.

Measuring change success – it’s a thorny topic. One of my most popular posts is 70% change fails: Bollocks. In it, I argue that change is way too complex to be measured by the simple binary “did it succeed? Yes or No” at a single point in time. Now I’d like to explore some of the change metrics available to us.

When I talk to leaders about change success I use four categories to how best progress can be understood.

1. Project success

Most change projects are deemed successful by project success measures (In full, On Time, On Budget). But these measures are often not sufficient – we can all think of projects where results looked good from a delivery perspective but user adoption was low and benefits limited.

From a change management perspective I tend to be interested in this but not ruled by it. Ultimately changes in scope, time delays and cost blow outs are critical, because they can create a lot more work in stakeholder engagement and expectation management. You want to achieve strong results in project management, but this really doesn’t measure success of the change.

2. User adoption

While user adoption tends to be used in technology/systems implementation, you can also consider employee compliance in the same bucket. Does anything actually change? Are people using the new system, are they behaving in a new way? Are they using new processes?

Successful “installation” is dependent on something actually changing! I know this sounds obvious – but it’s a real oversight in the change success discussions. Often the discussions focus on benefits realisation – and if the benefits are not achieved it is argued that the change management team did not do a good enough job and need to improve their practice. But the reasons behind low benefits realisation are many and varied – for example, the change team may have got great installation results, but the original logic for the change was flawed.

It’s this category that traditional change readiness surveys and polls come in handy. Being able to poll to understand “will they [make the change] and can they [make the change]” pre-go live puts you in a much stronger place at time of installation. You can target your efforts with remediation or intervention to ensure a good user adoption and/or employee compliance measurement.

Ultimately you are looking for metrics on items such as logins, new processes being followed, calls to support structures decreasing (or increasing). Common sense tells you 100% adoption on day one is unlikely, but with some careful thought you can identify a baseline metric for current state and expected usage or compliance over time.

3. Benefits realisation

It is a rare change initiative that you can measure benefits realisation immediately after go live. If you can, then you were working on something that was pretty broken to start with!

Benefits often take some time to start to become apparent. This can be because it takes time for new habits to form with behavioural change, proficiency to increase with systems usage, or business cycles to play out. The things you are looking to measure here are tangible measures – for example: speed to market, cost of transaction, cycle time, FTE release, speed of processes, employee engagement increase.

4. Change process success

Measuring how effective the change process was is critical. Nothing kills a future change faster than the legacy of poorly executed change. Some of the things that we can consider here along the way are periodic assessments of where people are at on the change curve (awareness, understanding, buy-in, commitment). Do the people feel empowered?

The one that really makes a difference is the “campsite rule” – leave the campsite in a better state than when you got there. The same goes for change management. Really successful change management means that you have built change capability and considered sustainable change. Your organisation has a higher state of change maturity than when you got there.

Whatever metrics you decide on, I think it is more important to have this conversation with those that matter. It can be incredibly powerful to have a rich discussion on what success looks like with organisational leaders, steering committee and project teams to align expectations and undertake some subtle change management education. Only then will we start to move away from the puffery of “70% of change projects fail” and start to have conversations that yield better results of change.

What about you? What do you use to measure successful change?

Related reading: Daryl Conner – The Leader’s Dilemma, Installation or Realization.

And if change success is REALLY important to you, you’ll find my book Conversations of Change: A guide to implementing workplace change very useful!


A change management Jiminy Cricket, sitting on your shoulder coaching you on the way forward. I know you’re capable of greatness. So drop me a line.


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