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Change Management | 10 MIN READ

9 Ways to Avoid Change Management Failure

It’s no secret that the majority of change management initiatives end in failure. To avoid this scenario, your organization must take steps to build a change management plan that allows your team to grow and thrive alongside technological innovation and industry evolution.

Jump to the main takeaways:

 1. Ensure Your Culture is Ready for Change
 2. Create a Sense of Urgency
 3. Build a Detailed, Actionable Strategy
 4. Encourage Buy-In By Getting Everyone Involved
 5. Eliminate Inefficient Operational Processes
 6. Boost Confidence With Quick Wins
 7. Create a Strong Feedback Loop
 8. Sustain Momentum With Tenacious Leadership
 9. Know That Long-Term Gain Outweighs Short-Term Pain


As per McKinsey, two out of every three organizational change initiatives aren’t considered successful. Unfortunately, because of the breakneck speed at which technology currently evolves, the margin for change management error has only shrunk in recent years.

The truth is that it’s not the strongest, richest, or most intellectual of businesses that find staying power in a digital marketplace that is more unforgiving than ever before. The more adaptable you are to a changing world, the more likely you are to survive. Even Darwin knew that.

All that said, there is always light at the end of the change management tunnel. In this blog post, I’ll help your organization build a vessel strong enough and with enough momentum to carry you there. I’ll touch on everything from creating the right change management culture to how you can execute your change management plan with confidence and precision.

Let’s begin!


1. Ensure That Your Organizational Culture is Ready for Change

The most important factor in any change management strategy is your company’s culture. Without an environment that values empathy, agility, continuous learning, and, above all else, a commitment to innovation, you won’t be ready to deploy any necessary changes.

This is easier said than done, given the lackluster state of global workplace culture. According to Officevibe’s State of Employee Engagement report, 60% said their job was adversely affecting their personal life. On top of that, only 15% of executives able to say that their own company’s culture is right where it needs to be.

To get the most out of any change management strategy, your organization needs to nurture the human side of your business via a strong, inclusive culture. This is as true for your executive team as it is for your entry-level employees or interns.

Fear can make any change initiative an intensely personal endeavor, and a strong culture is the surest way to minimize the negative impact of emotional resistance on your business goals.


2. Create a Sense of Urgency With Clearly Stated Reasons for Change

"Transformation of an enterprise begins with a sense of crisis or urgency," Louis V. Gerstner, the former IBM CEO, told Harvard students in 2002. "No institution will go through fundamental change unless it believes it is in deep trouble and needs to do something different to survive."

Those words encapsulate why a sense of urgency is so important to successful change management. But how does that sentiment makes its way out of a boardroom and into the hearts and minds of every stakeholder who will have a hand in altering how your company operates?

The answer, as it does for most problems that have to do with messaging around a mission or vision, is clear communication. You must be upfront about the reasons behind any organizational change, rather than just dumping documentation on someone’s desk or in someone’s inbox. People invest, both financially and emotionally, in “why,” not “what.”

At the end of the day, communicating the importance of change is all about clear, logical reasoning that raises the stakes for everyone involved. Without those core components, your team will have a hard time caring about the mission as much as you do.


3. Build a Detailed, Actionable Change Management Strategy

Of course, a successful change management process also has a big strategic component. In order to reach your long-term organizational goals, you first need to craft a change management plan that is detailed, flexible, and actionable.

You want to avoid striving for poorly conceived targets that are based on KPIs that are too broad or performance metrics that don’t tell the whole story. Your strategy also can’t be too rigid either, since a big part of agile change management is leaving yourself enough room to pivot your priorities or tweak your processes when circumstances shift.

More importantly, your change management strategy needs to be actionable. There must be a set of practices that clearly delineate how tasks will be accomplished, as well as how those items will contribute to the overall transformation. In other words, you have to know how to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

A successful change management plan should be an exhaustive blueprint that leaves no doubts as to how those ideas will be executed down the line.

To download our FREE change management template, click here!


4. Encourage Change Management Buy-In By Getting Everyone Involved

If your company culture and strategy for how to implement change is sorted, getting the universal buy-in that so many executives crave isn’t as hard as you might think. That said, it’s also deceptively easy to do your organization more harm than good in this regard.

As Lindsay Broder pointed out in her Entrepreneur piece on this subject, firing staff members who won’t get with the program isn’t a practical way to deal with resistance. Instead, getting buy-in from leaders in non-leadership roles (most managers will know one when they see one) can help nip opposition in the bud and make everyone’s lives at work much easier.

Another tip that Broder offers up that can help you get employees to buy into your organization’s change management plan is to shape the tasks you delegate to each person’s unique strengths. “Like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, nothing will get done if you have a big-picture person working on detail-rich tasks,” she adds.

Most importantly, take your internal communication to the next level by telling different stakeholders not only why their contributions are valuable, but also why their work is so vital to the future of your organization’s future. Raising the stakes, but with positivity.


5. Eliminate Inefficient Operational Processes to Facilitate Bold Execution

Nothing has killed more promising change management initiatives than inefficient internal processes and excessive bureaucratic red tape. To facilitate bold, precise execution of your change strategy, all needless roadblocks must be eliminated.

Reports have shown that 20-30% of a business’ annual revenue can be lost because of inefficient processes. However, the mind-boggling thing is that, despite historical evidence that should promote change, too many organizations settle for their current toolset and internal systems because there may be a practical function for them to serve. Eventually.

As Nick Candito notes in this blog post, companies with siloed, disjointed ways of operating day-to-day will irreparably damage both their current and long-term earning power. Technical bottlenecks and redundancies, poor integrations or change implementation can lead to a lack of usable insights and diminished marketplace performance.

If one or more processes aren’t serving a strong, identifiable purpose, it’s time to pull out those weeds.


6. Boost Confidence in Organizational Change With Some Quick Wins

A great way to boost your team’s confidence in your organizational change management plan is to put them in the position to enjoy some quick wins.

As Brent Gleeson outlines in his Inc. article, “rewarding quick wins will keep the team energized. It gives them something tangible and validates that the ‘new way of doing things’ is rooted in the culture and transformation vision.” That kind of affirmation by way of short-term successes can do wonders to smooth the cultural change transition.

However, while quick wins can certainly inject your organization’s morale with some added adrenaline, those immediate returns can’t overcorrect your long-term change management trajectory. HBR’s Dan Ciampa points out that, despite their allure, “rushing too quickly toward early wins can deprive [leadership] of the insight needed to understand the culture and build relationships.”

In short, using quick wins as a means to increase staff confidence can be an integral part of a successful change management strategy.


7. Refine Your Change Management Plan By Creating a Strong Feedback Loop

Establishing and growing a strong feedback loop that’s inextricably linked to your company’s culture is a crucial component of refining and optimizing your change management practices over time.

There are countless statistics that validate the importance of a feedback loop, but I’m going to focus on just one: the fact that 69% of employees say they’d work harder if their efforts were better recognized. As such, check-ins with your team that examine project progression and provide guidance at regular intervals will greatly enhance your productivity.

Striking this delicate balance hinges on your management team’s ability to foster an environment where all change management stakeholders are willing to have someone point out their weaknesses. Studies have shown that, once this level of trust is established, staff members are better able to reflect on ongoing projects and improve their capacity to learn.

That increased ability to absorb insights can, in turn, lead to a higher level of innovation across your organization. That entire series of events will remain unattainable without a strong feedback loop–one that is rooted in an equally inclusive culture.


8. Sustain Change Momentum With Thoughtful, Tenacious Leadership

While we’re on the topic of change management’s leadership component, let’s tackle two additional qualities that are tied to long-term success: the ability to be both thoughtful and tenacious.

The former simply means looking at each stage of your change management plan with a critical eye, one that allows you to keep optimization opportunities in your sights at all times. The latter defines a leader’s ability to push past temporary obstacles and strive, irrespective of those losses, for continuous improvement.

An inability to bake both of those qualities into your day-to-day will have a huge impact on your change management culture. Here’s HBR’s Nick Tasler with more:

“In organizational change initiatives, our negative biases can create a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy. When a change project falls a day behind schedule, if leaders and employees believe that successful change is an unlikely outcome, they will regard this momentary setback as the dead canary in the coalmine of their change initiative [...] Suddenly, employees disengage en masse and then the change engine begins to sputter in both perception and reality.”

Therefore, holding thoughtfulness and tenacity in high esteem at both the executive and employee level with help modulate the emotional part of change management.


9. Know That Long-Term Gain Outweighs Short-Term Pain

Finally, we come to one of the larger points that I’ve hinted at throughout this blog post. Essentially, for organizational change to be effective, everyone involved must realize that the short-term discomfort will be more than compensated for by the long-term benefits.

We both know that change is difficult, both on a personal and professional level. Change is also tough in different ways for different stakeholders, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the human component of change management. What can be standardized, at least to a certain degree, is how well your organization understands this “no pain, no gain” philosophy.

Let’s return to Darwin and the idea of adaptability for a moment. From Steve Jobs saving Apple in the 90s to Domino’s redefining IT investment norms in the food industry, the biggest tech companies became world-beaters by growing through organizational change, not running from it.


Change, as it pertains to businesses and commerce in an age of digital interconnectivity, is inevitable. The latest mobile software, cloud hosting technology, IT security standards, and more will continue to evolve at a very fast pace. Frankly, it’s out of your organization’s control.

Progress, however, is always a voluntary action. In that sense, how well your company can roll with those changes and deliver a reliably excellent user experience to consumers in your niche or industry will determine its long-term viability as an entity in the marketplace. To accomplish this, you need a change management plan that gets all stakeholders pulling in the same direction.

For more information on change management best practices and to download your free PDF template, click below!

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Originally published Aug 27, 2019 11:59:00 AM