Change management: 6 reasons it fails

As we move toward a post-pandemic world, organizations must navigate great change. Consider these barriers to change management – and how to beat them
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digital transformation reality check

Since the advent of the pandemic, ongoing change has touched all aspects of our lives, including the way we do business. To keep employees and customers engaged in a world that’s swiftly morphing from brick-and-mortar to bricks and clicks, executives across industries are aggressively driving change agendas from CIOs implementing new digital technologies at a dizzying pace to CFOs looking to fast-track new products and services to speed economic recovery.

6 change management mistakes to avoid

But as companies rush to reinvent themselves, they can fall prey to pitfalls that typically undermine change efforts. Here are six reasons why change efforts often miss the mark:

1. Sacrificing strategy for speed

Take time to design a solid strategy that clearly defines why change is needed.

While we can all agree that swift and timely action is essential to a successful change effort, don’t be tempted to sacrifice strategy for speed. Before rushing to launch your change effort, take time to design a solid strategy that clearly defines why change is needed, what’s changing, who will be affected and how, when changes will occur, what threats and obstacles are expected, and how you will measure results and recognize progress. Without a defined roadmap for change, it will be impossible to keep everyone focused and moving in concert toward your goals.

[ Remote work can lead some people to slip into micromanager behaviors. Read also: Are you micromanaging your remote or hybrid team? 10 questions.]

2. Forgetting the end-user

A common mistake in crisis response is forgetting to factor in your critical end-users, internal and external stakeholders. When designing your change or transformation process, make a concerted effort to develop a thorough understanding of your stakeholder groups their needs, expectations, pain points, and readiness for change. A strategy that meets your end-users where they are will have a better chance of engaging their support and guiding them successfully through the changes ahead.

3. Losing the forest for the trees

Implementing change is a complex, painstaking process that requires significant energy, intellectual power, strength, commitment, and sheer fortitude to remain on task and focused. As you strive to keep track of all the details, don’t lose sight of the big picture the underlying reasons for change, intended outcomes, and how these changes will help drive strategic goals or priorities. Staying grounded in the big picture and maintaining a line of sight to your overall business objectives, will help ensure success every time.

4. Communicating too little, too late

Ideally, we’d love to have all the answers on hand before communicating to employees in a crisis, but the reality is that it may take days or even weeks before you receive the details you want and need. Playing a waiting game can result in sending out too little communications, too late. As a rule of thumb, communicating early and often will allow you to lead with the facts and set expectations. Be honest about what you don’t know and what you’re doing to get answers. Finally, provide regular updates as you receive new and changing details to help you control the conversation and rein in the rumor mill. 

Communicating early and often will allow you to lead with the facts and set expectations. Be honest about what you don’t know and what you’re doing to get answers.

5. Overcomplicating your message

When developing your message platform, strive for brevity, clarity, and simplicity. To keep from confusing employees, avoid corporate-speak, HR talk, technical words, and jargon. Plain language, tailored to each target audience, will help ensure that your message is understood and that each party knows what is expected of them.

6. Failing to ask for feedback along the way

Companies that excel at change are diligent about asking for feedback before, during, and after implementing a change or transformation process. By providing regular opportunities for employees to share feedback, you can gain invaluable insights, course correct when needed, and better position your initiative for success. Failing to provide avenues for feedback will leave you executing your change strategy in a vacuum, unable to foresee and address potentially serious problems that could derail your efforts.

Make change management a core competency

Executing a successful change management effort is one of the toughest challenges for an organization, regardless of how much money, brainpower, talent, and resources you may have at your disposal. However, as the speed, volume, and complexity of change continue to escalate in the face of the pandemic and post-pandemic businesses will have no choice but to make change readiness a core competency.

By steering clear of the six pitfalls outlined above, you can help stack the deck in your company’s favor and have a fighting chance of emerging from change as a stronger, wiser, and more resilient organization on the path to recovery.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Jennifer Gianni
Jennifer Gianni is a change and transformation leader for Notion Consulting, a global change-leadership consultancy that helps leaders tackle their most complex business challenges.