Five Change Management Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Five Change Management Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Why mistakes in change management are repeated

It’s easy to speak about common mistakes, but much harder to avoid them. For a person who wants to lose weight, a common mistake is to treat themselves to a cream cake and promise to work it off at the gym later. Avoiding this is relatively easy: don’t walk past the bakery on the way to work (think of an if-then plan). Yet too often a new route to avoid temptation is ignored.

When it comes to change management, organisations see the same mistakes made time after time. This is because, just as in our personal life, identification of the mistake is quite different to identification of avoidance strategies. Here we examine five common pitfalls into which change management jumps time after time, and look at how they may be avoided on the way to making effective change.

Pitfall 1: Lack of communication of the vision of the benefits of change

Change can be confusing for all. This confusion is heightened when we don’t communicate why the change is necessary. Rather than being made more nervous by the vision of the future, your people will be encouraged that management is forward-thinking. But they won’t know this unless they are told about change.

Change management should take time to plan the communication of change, with emphasis put on current state versus future state and the benefits to individuals and teams. Remember that just because the need for change is obvious to you, it probably won’t be to others. Remember to answer the following questions:

  • What is happening?
  • Why is it happening?
  • How is it happening?
  • How does it affect me?

Pitfall 2: Lack of change sponsors

Once the case for change has been made, and strategy produced by a senior management team, the responsibility is handed to a change management team. This team is tasked with the process of change from first to last, and left to get on with it. Six months later, senior managers begin to question why there is so much resistance to the change program, pointing fingers at the change management team charged with its implementation.

One of the major drivers of effective change is sponsorship by senior executives. Change must be led by example, and it is the responsibility of senior executives to be seen and heard in support of the change program. Make sure your senior people are present at training seminars and team meetings where the change is discussed, and that they are involved in the communication of change at every stage.

Pitfall 3: Large-scale change is attempted in one hit

So the company needs to change from a focus on individual customers to one serving a corporate client base. The change is made almost overnight, with salespersons scheduled to meet corporates and the old customer base hung out to dry.

Wholescale change never works when it is instigated too rapidly. Staff need to be trained, new cultures engrained, and new processes and procedures planned and implemented. Roll out change slowly at first. This allows testing and modification, before further rollout.

The process of change should start slowly and gather pace. If not, you face hitting a wall of internal and external resistance.

Pitfall 4: Ignoring the stakeholders of change

When the first phase of the change program has been completed, change management sits down to dissect what went right and what went wrong. Too often this is done without getting frontline employees involved in the conversation. Problems that may become barriers to effective change are missed.

Seek input and feedback from those that use new systems or have to work within a framework of revised procedures. Take time to listen to concerns, and make certain that your people have the opportunity to voice their fears openly in team meetings and coaching sessions. Get change sponsors on board with this process, and encourage open and honest communication for the best results.

Pitfall 5: Believing that the change process has finished

The new client booking system has been rolled out, back office and sales staff have been trained how to use it, and the first week trial went well. Six months later, the old ways are being used by 50% of salespersons, the booking and invoicing system is fractured and staff relations are fractious.

Just because the first phase of rollout produced an effective change, doesn’t mean it will continue thus. People revert to their old ways quickly if left to do so. Change management requires a strategic plan of reinforcement with continuous coaching and mentoring. Team meetings should be headed by best practice discussions, and sponsors should continue to set an example. Only when the ‘new normal’ becomes simply normal can change be declared complete ­ – by which time, of course, your next change project will have been initiated (because change is, after all, a continual process required to remain competitive in the modern economy).

Build your strategy for effective change

The baseline requirement of change management is to plan and prepare. Once this is done, successful implementation of change requires acceptance that communication and engagement are the keys to effective change. Resistance to change will be highest where the need for change is not effectively communicated and where the benefits of change are not understood by all. Finally, once a change program has been initiated and the new practices and procedures are in place, reinforcement strategies will be needed to ensure that there is no slippage back to old ways.

Avoid these five pitfalls of change management outlined above, and your change program won’t be in the two thirds of change programs that fail.

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Successful Organisational Change Stands on These Three Legs

Successful Organisational Change Stands on These Three Legs

When big organisational change works well the results are astounding. When it fails the results are catastrophic. But how do you get change to stick in a company that has a set way of doing things? Why was Schulz a success at Starbucks and Johnson a failure at J.C. Penney?

The answer to both these questions lay in the approach to change management. Whenever a change project is initiated it requires a strong base from which to grow. I call this ‘the three legs of organisational change’. Unless these are in place, your change project will fail. Here I look at how to build a strong base for change to succeed, and how Johnson failed where Schulz succeeded.

Understand your brand and build upon it

Johnson’s foray into retail at Penney wasn’t his first experience of doing so. He had worked some magic at Apple, leading its charge into direct retail; but before that he had also overachieved at Target. There he seemed to understand the importance of brand. Target customers consistently and intentionally mispronounced its name: ‘Targét’ sounds so much more chic. This mispronunciation continues today, making what was essentially a low-end discount store appear to be a high-end boutique fashion house. Johnson was able to take this brand awareness and sell big-name goods at affordable prices to its customers.

At Penney’s, Johnson tried the same trick; this time without success. The difference was that there was no brand alignment to culture. Penney’s was Penney’s to its customers, who did not have the willingness to embrace Johnson’s vision.

At Starbucks, Howard Schulz faced a different problem. He found it had lost its way by forgetting the reason for its existence in the first place. What he needed to do was to realign the brand to its original aspirations and meet those of its customers. Schulz understood what Starbucks stood for: he was the archetypal coffee customer himself. From this understanding he built his vision of the future: he didn’t want to destroy the Starbucks brand, but rather he wanted to build upon it and use its roots to reinvent itself through organisational change.

Champion culture change throughout your organisation

Johnson thought he could do at Penney’s what he had achieved at Target. But he didn’t take management with him. His vision was his alone. He wanted to do away with ‘sales’ and ‘discounts’ and ‘clearances’. In their place he wanted customers to know that Penney’s always offered prices that were ‘fair and square’. He ran expensive television ad campaigns aimed at changing perception: no longer would Penney’s run clearances, but instead it would offer everyday low prices. But Penney’s customers wanted sales. They expected clearances. They visited the stores to see what the latest discounts were. When these disappeared, so too did the reason to shop at Penney’s.

Johnson failed to understand what his customers wanted. In this, he also failed to understand the corporate culture at Penney’s. Managers and executives weren’t on-boarded with the new culture. He had no leaders among senior and middle management to champion the new thinking.

Schulz found a company that had forgotten its reason for being. He went into the field and spoke with customers, asking them what it was they wanted. The answer was simple: a good cup of coffee. That was his start point, and from there he began to change his company’s culture. He retrained servers to become baristas, artists in the making of coffee. Most famously, he once shut down the entire store network for three hours to retrain its baristas in how to make a perfect espresso. Radical, but with results.

Schulz wasn’t working alone: he took his entire workforce with him on the journey of organisational change.

Start your organisational change small, and build out constructively

Johnson attempted too much change too quickly. He hadn’t given time to his leaders to adopt the idea of change, and nor did he test it. The company had been performing poorly, and perhaps he felt it didn’t have time to adapt to the changes he felt it needed to make. Then again, over at Starbucks finances were going down the drain, too.

Schulz took time to explain and test and train. Johnson jumped in with both feet. Schulz took time to understand what customers wanted and where Starbucks was failing them. Johnson dictated new sales policies.

Schulz was able to turn the Starbucks brand around because he listened, tested, trained, and inspired: all things that Johnson didn’t do. Schulz recruited his managers to the new culture, and, in turn, they, too, informed and inspired. In response to customer surveys, Schulz had all staff retrained in how to make a good coffee, and then he added new flavours and ranges.

New culture has to be coached and reinforced. It cannot be enforced, and nor can sweeping changes be made overnight. Cultural change takes time; it needs to be tested and retested for acceptance. In this regard, brand change is the same. Schulz piloted change internally and externally, and then he made change stick.

Short-term fixes v long-term triumphs

Brands are not built by ad campaigns. They are not grown by pandering to short-term financial aims of shareholders and money men. Brands develop over time, with leaders creating a culture in which employees lead a champion brand. If you have a good brand, as both Schulz and Johnson had, don’t ignore its roots. Build upon its strengths by building upon the strengths of your people. Organisational change takes time and patience, inspiration and leadership. It takes investment in training, coaching, and reinforcement. And it takes an awareness of customers, their needs and their desires. Brand awareness, cultural championing, and patient approach are what is needed to reap the long-term benefits of organisational change.

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Change management, innovation, leadership

As you can imagine, I spend a fair amount of time keeping up with changes and challenges faced by industry and business in the fields of change management and innovation. So I’m constantly on the lookout for information and news that may impact behaviour and best practice across organisations.

Here’s a pick of what I’ve been attracted to this week:

Change Management

National Manager, Social Sector Banking at Westpac, Lali Wiratunga, explores some key themes that boards, leaders and their teams should consider for innovation management in the Social Sector. … commitment to the Social Sector. The leaders represented the diversity of the sector: Intrepid Founders, Social Innovators, Employment Partners, Community Builders, Life Savers, Local Champions, Storytellers and Change Makers. …. Australian NFP Wins $100,000.

When skilled change management leaders enter supply chain and operations, companies tend to do quite well. Toyota, for example, rose to prominence through its culture of embracing constant change toward improvement.

A recent POLITICO report on a revolt against Common Core shows that a bottom-up, local approach is an effective strategy against federal programs. From the. Who said creating trouble can’t be an effective way for change management. Sharkonomics.

Reddit today announced that its longtime CEO Yishan Wong is stepping down as leader of the company. … Reddit CEO Yishan Wong resigns in surprise leadership change. Reddit CEO Yishan Wong holding up a gift from …

Innovation News

Online Learning From Innovation Management · Article Library · Research · Channel One Play · Co-creation · Learning Programs … The concept of the JTBD, popularized by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, helps move innovations beyond simply improving current solutions by helping teams to understand what a customer is trying to get done, in a solution neutral way. That is, in consideration of what a customer would want from the problem or …

As innovation reaches out to a larger field in the company, it requires various competences and a specific management.

… and will continue to do so until the end of this year. From the beginning of next year, we will start co-creating our e-book on the Management and Organization of Open Innovation in a joint effort with the MOOI forum members.

Washington, D.C. – Today at a White House ceremony, President Obama will honor the newest recipients of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. These awards are the highest …

Where My Words Have Travelled

publish around the place from time to time. Here’s the latest:

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are the subject of a lot debate in the blogosphere. Will they be a disruptive technology for universities? Will they take over the trainer’s job in corporate organizations?

From a higher education perspective, it’s easy to see the selling point for students

In 1987 Paul O’Neill became the CEO of Alcoa. Taking over the helm of a company usually means making grand statements about finances, about cutting costs, and change the investment priorities. But what O’Neill did at his first investor press conference was a little different.

To improve productivity in organizations you need only get leaders out in the field

The controversial Koch brothers wrote a book called the Science of Success (2007). I don’t recommend you read it as it’s one of those books that successful people write where they think they were successful because of these management techniques, whereas it’s more likely that because they were successful they could try out these management techniques (fads of the day?).

According to the ASTD’s 2013 State of the Industry Report, U.S. organizations spent $164.2 billion on employee learning and development in 2012. The report does a good job of categorizing and classifying expenditure. But what about ROI? How can managers structure training to ensure a positive ROI?

How often have you rolled out a new IT project that failed to deliver the desired benefits? Most projects fail to deliver benefits because of poor change management. Little to no attention is paid to the people side.

From the Vault

An article on Fortune, interviews Malcolm Gladwell about his much talked about book,Outliers on the theory of how success happens.

Gladwell comments, “We have the kind of self-made-man myth, which says that super-successful people did it themselves. And we have a series of other beliefs that say that our personality, our intelligence, all of our innate characteristics are the primary driving force. It’s that cluster of things that I don’t agree with.”

Over at, Ron Asciding to clean up and throw things out when he had to move office, and as a consequence simplify his life.