Effective Change Management: Five Pitfalls to Avoid

Five Change Management Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

It’s easy to speak about common mistakes, but much harder to avoid them for effective change management. 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.

Why mistakes in effective change management are repeated

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.

Effective 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 effective change management 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 effective 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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