While success is what we strive for, failure — at least initially — is what many of us experience.
Over the years, I have come across many companies that have a desire to change – they want to change organizational culture, improve customer service, increase employee engagement, and approach leadership in a new way. These companies have a common goal in mind – they want to change the way they do business in order to grow, remain competitive and be profitable.
They also share another commonality – they fail to understand the process of change management and how to make change stick.
Change is not an event, it’s a process that takes time, and making change stick starts with an effective change management plan. As I have stated previously in A NO EXCUSE Approach to Make Change Stick and Drive Employee Engagement:
“Making change stick is challenging, and keeping your team engaged and accountable throughout the process can be even more of a challenge. Framing change the right way, having a strong change management plan, allowing your team to provide input in how change will take place, and giving change time to take place will give it a batter chance to stick and keep your people engaged during the transition.”
The following outlines some of the key reasons why change management fails:
Why Most Change Management Initiatives Fail
1. Lack of urgency: Creating a sense of urgency and communicating WHY change is necessary is essential to get people motivated to actually change and get on board. However, many leaders fail to create a sense of urgency for the need for change, and they also underestimate the difficulty in getting people to buy in.
This doesn’t have to be burning platform urgency – but you must create some tension in the organization. What does your competitive landscape look like? Are your revenues/profits declining? What trends are you seeing that need change to adapt? What is the fundamental reason you need change?
To create a sense of urgency, it’s important to be upfront and honest with your team about why change is needed and the implications of what will happen if they continue to stick with the status quo. You must have a clear and compelling reason of why the organization needs the desired outcome – and the downside implications if the change is not executed, otherwise your movement to change is doomed before it starts.
2. Lack of vision: Once you are clear on the root cause for change, leaders need to have a vision for of the end game they want their organization to achieve. What does the outcome look and feel like? What is your vision of how change will impact operations, employee engagement, customer service, and other relevant aspects of how you do business? You need to have a vision that you can clearly and simply communicate to your team. It needs to have an element of inspiration to secure buy in. If you don’t first get people to emotionally connect with your vision for change, how can you expect them to follow?
Clearly communicating your vision for change is vital. More importantly, you need to communicate how change will impact people on an individual level and what change will look like and feel like.
3. Engage your team: Even the strongest leaders can’t do it alone. You must identify others across the organization who are equally committed to the end result. Who are the key influencers in the organization? Who are the traditional roadblocks? Make sure these are identified and you build strong partnerships. Be clear in understanding what motivates each of these people and how the changes will address their needs. Bring them together and work to create alignment of their goals.
4. Courage to remove obstacles: There will be obstacles – lots of them. It’s part of the change management process. However, more often than not, leaders fail to remove obstacles that prevent the organization from taking the next step in their evolution.
Whether the obstacle is an internal process or even a person, leaders need to have the courage to remove them as soon as possible to ensure the change process is not undermined or derailed.
Old habits die hard, and this is why continuous support, training, and reassurance must be provided during the transition. There will be temptations to resort back to the old comfortable way of doing things, and dated organizational rules and structures could get in the way of moving forward.
5. Lack of systematic planning: Real transformational change is a process that takes time. It won’t happen overnight, and it’s not a simple initiative. Leaders must have a systematic change framework to guide the change process with both a short and long term view. Without the short-term view, too often the enthusiasm wanes and another “bright, shiny object” takes priority. Be prepared for the long-term, but have the short-term clearly in view.
What does change look like short term? What steps are required to help you achieve your vision for change? What short term wins/milestones are intentionally built into the plan and will be celebrated?
Change will not happen overnight. Understanding the key reasons why change initiatives fail and having a change management plan provides leaders with a solid foundation for how to lead change and overcome any obstacles they may encounter.
An effective change management plan addresses things like service mandates, accountability, training and coaching, change management, and communications strategies. Learn more by reading Building Your Change Management Plan.