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Top 20+ change management mistakes to avoid

Driving and managing change will remain the number one priority for leaders according to a recently published study. But the reality is that most change efforts fail. Many of these failures can be traced to these common change management mistakes:

Mistake #1 – Starting too late

Pressure to act quickly undermines values and culture. Leaders take drastic steps quickly with no time to explore alternatives. Values about participation, involvement, or concern for people disappear. Cynicism grows.

Mistake #2 – No winning strategy

The best change program in the world won’t do any good if your organization doesn’t have a strategy for getting where it wants to go.

Mistake #3 – Fanfare

All too often organizations announce big changes and new programs with big events and fanfare, but then very little actually happens. The initial energy and enthusiasm fades, specific changes are never identified let alone implemented, results aren’t realized, managers don’t adjust, or maybe something even better comes along leading to a new “launch” with new fanfare.

Mistake #4 – Employees hear it from the media first

Journalists dig for information, and items can run in the media before employees hear about them. Middle managers look dumb and uninformed. Employees feel insulted and left out.

Mistake #5 – Failure to make a compelling and urgent case for change

What is obvious to the top may not be so obvious to other pivotal players. How real and meaningful is the case for change for each of the pivotal groups? Do they feel a sense of crisis, a “burning platform?” If not, how can you create it?

Failure to create a strong sense of urgency causes a change movement to lose momentum before it gets a chance to start. Establishing a true sense of urgency without creating an emergency is the first objective achieved to overcome the routine of daily business.

Mistake #6 – Only focusing on the rational elements

Organizational change will be extremely difficult in most cases if managers rely only on making a case to the rational, analytical, problem-solving side of the brain. Instead, they must also make an emotional case for change and align the rational and emotional elements of the appeal.

Before you can get buy-in, people need to feel the problem. People aren’t going to consider anything until they are convinced there is a problem that truly needs to be addressed.

Mistake #7 – Not dealing proactively with resistance

Managing resistance to change is challenging and it’s not possible to be aware of all sources of resistance to change. Expecting that there will be resistance to change and being prepared to manage it is a proactive step. It’s far better to anticipate objections than to spend your time putting out fires, and knowing how to overcome resistance to change is a vital part of any change management plan.

The change curve

 

Change Management - Reactions to change - The Change Curve

Mistake #8 – Everyone’s reaction will be even remotely like yours

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in initiating major company changes is to expect that everyone’s reaction will be even remotely like yours.

Regardless of the catalyst for the change, it will be your employees who determine whether it successfully achieves its desired outcome. Organizations don’t change – People do – or they don’t.

Mistake #9 – Lack of communication

Change management communications need to be targeted to each segment of the workforce, and delivered in a two-way fashion that allows people to make sense of the change subjectively.

Mistake #10 – Not enough leadership

To many leaders focus too much on management and too little on leadership. That is mainly because managers are taught to use management tools, of which many exist. Leadership, on the other hand, is hard to teach, springing as it does from many personal qualities. And, compared to the great quantity of management tools, few leadership tools are available to the manager. One of the few – and one of the most effective – is storytelling.

Mistake #11 – Ignoring current corporate culture

All change in organizations is challenging, but perhaps the most daunting is changing culture. When people in an organization realize and recognize that their current organizational culture needs to transform to support the organization’s success and progress, change can occur.

 

Change management mistakes to avoid

Source: Dilbert

Mistake #12 – Failure to understand and shape the informal organization

Organizations usually have networks and coalitions of people that are not visible on the formal organization chart. These networks and coalitions help shape opinion. They can either accelerate or retard change. Ignoring or circumventing these groups can result in actual resistance.

Mistake #13 – Not involving the employees

Leaders must actively involve the people most affected by the change in its implementation. This will help ensure employees at all levels of the organization embrace the proposed changes.

Mistake #14 – Over-reliance on structure and systems to change behavior

Structural and systems changes help create a new context and orientation. And they have the surface appeal of being visible and fast. But people do not become different just because you put them in a new context. Structures and systems, by themselves, don’t change people’s behavior or give them new skills.

Mistake #15 – Failure to distinguish between decision-driven and behavior dependent change

Creating a higher level of performance, lowering cost, raising quality, carving out a new relationship to the market always requires a mix of decisions and behavior change. Decisions concern such things as market position, alliances, and product lines. Behavior change asks people to act differently, gain new skills, or shift the organization’s culture. Getting people to change their behavior requires a different mindset and a different set of leadership skills than making decisions about strategy.

Mistake #16 – Lack of skills and resources

Change does not happen through goals and exhortation alone. Like any business operation, It also calls for the right skills and resources, Organizations often simply fail to commit the necessary time, people, and resources to making change work. Paradoxically, successful behavior change often demands the very skills the change Is trying to create.

Mistake #17 – Focusing only on the long term

Large-scale organizational change is a long process. Break down your vision into smaller short-term goals, and communicate short-term successes at each opportunity.

Mistake #18 – Failing to plan small successive successes

An important part of sticking to the vision is to create opportunities to achieve smaller goals along the way. These small successes will not only work directly toward achieving the desired change, but will create positive feelings of accomplishment and the drive to pursue the next goal.

Mistake #19 – Using the wrong indicators to measure progress

When a major change effort gets under way, executives often are scared off by the symptoms of their success.  Don’t panic if you see problems vis-à-vis morale, job stress, loyalty, the trust level or job satisfaction.  It could be proof that you’re doing precisely the right things.

Mistake #20– Assuming that change is complete once initial goals are achieved

If you declare victory too soon, the focus will be taken away from your efforts, and all traces of your hard work could soon disappear. Successful companies consistently re-evaluate their change efforts to determine where other areas can be improved, such as employee development and retention, new projects and new systems and structures.

Mistake #21 – Excessively open-ended process

Achieving fundamental change in an organization is at least a 2 to 3 year process. But organizations often run out of energy or lose focus after 9 to 15 months.

Mistake #22 – The same way

Doing things again the same way as you did before when even then they didn’t work properly.

 

organizational change management pitfalls

Infographic: Top 20+ organizational change management pitfalls

 

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About the author
Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement and development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland

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About the author
Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement and development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland

View full profile

11 comments on “Top 20+ change management mistakes to avoid

June 11, 2012 12:31 am

Mary LP

The practicality and simplicity of the outlined change management mistakes is most appreciated! Thank you!

June 11, 2012 10:43 pm

rick maurer

I like your list. But I would add something to Mistake 7 Not Dealing Proactively with Resistance. I agree with your advice, but I don’t believe that resistance has to go with the territory. People don’t have to go through stages of grief if the change is handled well. In Collins’ book, good to Great, he discusses great organizations that are so good at keeping people in the loop regarding goals, threats, opportunities, etc. that major changes often were planned, implemented, and got results without significant resistance. Too often leaders miss the importance of pre-planning so that every stakeholder can see 9and feel) why a change is needed.

June 19, 2012 8:46 pm

Bharath Balakrishnan

I couldn’t agree more on point# 8. I would rather think, the challenge may vary from complete lack of communication to lack of change communication to appropriate impacted parties at detailed level as needed. Also, i have noticed that it is critical, especially on large scale transformation efforts to have an exclusive change manager or a Management of Change lead. When change management is left to the project managers, it often becomes a deliverable rather than a component that drives the change within the organization.
 
I enjoyed reading this post. I would like to invite you to take time to review my consulting blog if you find it interesting (www.thesmartconsultant.com). Your time and inputs are appreciated.

June 25, 2012 10:55 am

Kjeld Kleffel

Hi Rick, I like your list also, after having read through the list – I think number 7 need to be addressed further.
Most companies totally ignore the fact that most people have history from previous change projects/processes, god and bad, this will influence on how they accept the change process to be. Furthermore we need to look at their current mental state (Stress on workplace, at home etc.) you could call it the personal stamina towards change) and then we have to look at how they imagine the future after the change process has taken place – is it attractive enough and does the change process insure the right level of involvement and influence on their own job situation). This altogether will if discovered prior to the large change processes, give the organization a huge advantage towards avoiding failure.
 
Also we need to consider the fact that not all have a negative reaction to change and that it is individually on how fast one person slide through the phase in the graph – the positive reaction to change – because if we don’t, we risk losing some important people on the way towards achieving the new stage. These people will be the strong ones that can’t see themselves in the “new tomorrow” and therefore will leave the organization.

June 26, 2012 5:50 pm

Julie crabtree

Hi Rick, thank you for sharing list. Number 18 particularly. This would be useful for a number of senior leaders. As Egan clearly states “managing the shadow side of organisations” sometimes there is a public agenda and a different agenda underpinning so kpi’s differ. It is also refreshing to see that there are people who do not see a drop in morale during a big change as a negative! Thank you.

July 14, 2012 10:10 am

robert_ilbrink

Rick,
Thank you for sharing this list and being brave enough to accept feedback and comments.
 
With regard to #12: Not involving the employees.
You write about involving the employees in the IMPLEMENTATION phase.
 
The most overlooked opportunity in change management is the involvement of the employees in the INVESTIGATION of performance problems and developping new programs/methods (either through incremental change or radical change based on “green fielding”) TOGETHER with the employees.
 
In many situations the need for change is driven by top management due to lackluster performance, and most of the management layers below are not driving the change (because they often lack the knowledge, which the employees have, to know HOW they can dramatically improve the performance), but instead middle management is often only trying to reduce the impact of the change that is forced upon them.
 
In other words, I often see that the top decides HOW we are going to change, instead of setting PERFORMANCE objectives and involving the rest of the organisation on how this should be done.

July 19, 2012 12:47 pm

IanFarmer

Great list Torben, thanks.  Too any organizations not realizing the difference between change management and project management, the outcome of which is that they simply automate their inefficiencies and problems they don’t fix them, certainly not long term, good piece on change versus project management 

March 10, 2014 2:30 pm

Paula Haefner

Nice checklist (and could be used as one). Great synopsis. Along with other comments on #7 and #8, I would like to expand on those numbers.

I would add ‘Not giving employee’s and out’ and/or not allowing some areas to ‘back door’ the original process. If a change is not realistic, or you have a high priority project I have found people find ways to work around changes being made. It might be a tool, it might be a process, it might be both. If excuses are made, by example ‘this is a strategic project’, or we don’t require this vendor to change… it diminishes the potential success. This may not always be an option, especially if a vendor contract is involved, however it should be monitored and encouraged as soon as possible.

July 9, 2014 5:30 pm

Jan Levine

Good article. Thank you!

July 16, 2014 1:28 pm

John Wade

Good list; thank you. I’d add to your first point: Not to start too early, either. Beginning change without the commitment and critical mass of the most senior stakeholders affected by the change can often lead to difficulties and demotivation later.

July 26, 2014 12:36 am

Jody McDonald

Thanks Rick for posting a valuable article and also for stimulating a valuable discussion. I couldn’t agree more with Ian. Change leadership requires a specific skill set that is quite different from the project management skills. Fully utilizing the Change Manager’s talent, tools, and processes may seem tedious at first. But using a consistent process is an investment in success because at the end of the day, every improvement or innovation is dependent on people being willing to adopt the changes required.

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