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 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 momentumbefore 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.

Mistake #8 – 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 #9 – 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 #10 – 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.

Mistake #11 – 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 #12 – 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 #13 – 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 #14 – 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 #15 – 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 #16 – 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 #17 – 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 #18 – 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 #19– 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 #20 – 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.

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Top 20+ change management mistakes to avoid —

About the author

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement and development, change management and turn-around.

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