Why Radical Honesty Is the Only Way to Transform an Organization

A Harvard Business School professor examines five failed attempts at organizational change to show how a lack of honest communication doomed them

MIchael Beer


Photo: laflor/Getty Images

WWhen faced with large strategic challenges, every organization — whether private, social, or governmental — often needs to reimagine its very purpose, identity, strategy, business model, and structure, and then attempt to transform itself to realize that reimagined ideal. Most of these efforts to transform will fail. In most cases, they miss the mark not because the new strategy is flawed, but because the organization can’t carry it out. As one pair of executives I worked with understood, “Poor implementation will eat good strategy for lunch.”

Let’s look at five examples of failed attempts at transformation to understand why these attempts fail and what the key to successful transformation might be.

Nokia: Poor collaboration and coordination

As the first company in the mobile phone industry to achieve commercial success, Nokia enjoyed a huge share of the global market. But by 2010, its share was declining with Apple’s introduction of the iPhone. Surprisingly, years before the iPhone was…