Common Mistakes in Change Management and How to Avoid Them

June 6, 2016

Far too many change management initiatives fail. If transitions are handled properly, however, they can yield plentiful results and strong returns for businesses. Understanding the common mistakes companies make can help prevent failure and maximise your chances of change management success.

A study by John P. Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership,  Emeritus at Harvard Business School, found there were identifiable trends to transitional failures.

“Unsuccessful transitions almost always founder during at least one of the following phases: Generating a sense of urgency; Establishing a powerful guiding coalition; Developing a vision; Communicating the vision clearly and often; Removing obstacles; Planning for and creating short-term wins; Avoiding premature declarations of victory; and embedding changes in the corporate culture.”

Listed below are three ways to combat common change management mishaps.

1. Don’t immediately overhaul the entire organisation. Execute discrete and incremental changes.

Companies often want to initiate a broad sweeping overhaul all at once. However, Forbes’ Ron Ashkenas says this tendency is counter-productive. He recommends  initiating incremental “reasonably well-defined initiatives” instead. “Introducing a new performance management system [and] utilising new personal productivity tools are examples of how discrete initiatives, carried out in an orderly fashion, can succeed,” he said.

2. Don’t assume that the organisation will simply absorb your vision. Executive sponsorship is necessary.

Executive sponsorship means that there is a senior leader committed to the change initiative who plays an active role throughout the implementation process. Without a senior leader believing in and guiding the change management processes, employees get lost or confused as to what goals they should aim toward. As a result, change initiatives are more likely to fail. Employees need a fixed goal when operations and programmes shift around in a company. Clearly defined objectives and open communication are essential during a change management process.

3. Don’t forget your employees. Create a sense of urgency and get employees energised about the new changes.

John P. Kotter found that buy in from 75 percent of a company’s management is needed for a transition to be successful. “When change in the workplace is introduced, the fear can arise in employees – fear of losing their job to automation or a new process, and/or the fear of understanding and knowing how to use the new technology,” he said. “In order to subside fears, having open and honest dialogue with your employees about what is taking place in the company is critical.” If management can’t help employees catch the vision of what is taking place, the change management project will likely fail. Kotter concludes “So, get the workplace excited about the future, and don’t linger in the company’s past.”

By initiating incremental change, getting executive buy-in, and making sure your employees are included in the excitement, you will create an environment where change management initiatives are welcomed rather than resisted.

  • Please comment on what happens without executive sponsorship or if it is only verbal at best.
    Secondly, if no one is paying attention to or evaluating the change management process, it won’t kill the project, but it will definitely be less effective-leaving unanswered questions like, what’s next, what about the work that remains even though the bodies are gone, what are the new behavioral expectations of me, and how does this change impact our current goals and or vision?

  • De Liely

    I always appreciate articles about “change” in the workplace because it seems to me that employees dread the round of “new” initiatives dredged up over and over only to be the same. I am totally amazed that we as leaders refuse to accept the scientific verification that we need to become high-touch and talk during change all of what you said above. We may very well say, “Get with the program”, but I believe this only propels employees toward fear rather than acceptance.De. Liely