Top 3 Change Management Mistakes

Change is a healthy part of any enterprise intent on thriving long-term. Failure to adapt eventually means irrelevance, regardless of the organization.

Here are two definitions to start.

  • Mistakes in technique – With any change management effort, plan on mistakes in technique. This is the ‘how’ of change, the specific methods and experiments to move toward the vision. One speaker (I don’t remember his name) compared a technique mistake to accidentally making holes in a boat above the waterline. While not ideal, the boat can take a few without too much trouble.
  • Mistakes in principle – Although techniques can evolve readily, there should be underlying principles that remain constant. For example, team members should treat each other with respect, even when there’s disagreement. To use the boat analogy again, ignoring a principle is like making holes below the waterline. This is much more serious.

While there are several contenders for serious change management mistakes, here are my top three. If left unchecked, each will become an error in principle.

Mistake #3 – Lack of Follow-through

Good intentions alone are incomplete. Wishing, discussing or even goal-setting for the expected change isn’t enough. One of the comfort zones during uncertainty is to stay busy with outdated activities or simply stay in a planning mode. This may not be from resistance so much as fear.

Most of us like to get As on our tests which means making few or no mistakes. In change management, it’s normal to make mistakes in technique but the follow-through must focus on the goals until reached.

Lesson – Repeatedly explain the ‘why’ of change and give reassurance about mistakes in technique. Be consistent about checking on goal deadlines and agreements. Find those who follow up naturally and appoint them as appropriate. Lack of follow-through will kill a change effort.

Mistake #2 – Ignoring Current Culture

Periodically, senior managers mandate big change ‘or else.’ While the commitment is admirable, current culture may see the policy as a win for management and a loss for the workers. Bad move. As one wise mentor said, “Involve them.”

Please, do not under-estimate the status quo culture. Don’t be afraid but be intentionally wise. Here are some questions to help navigate the risky waters.

  • What are the values of the current culture and will they need to change to ensure success?
  • Where is the overlap between current methods and future techniques?
    What is the best way to capitalize on mutual goals?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the change plan? Of the current culture? Pick battles where change is the strongest and status quo is weakest.

With any serious change movement, there will be setbacks, mistakes and unexpected obstacles. Activities that might have seemed trivial may suddenly become rallying points for the status quo culture. Keep going, carefully choose battles and take alternative paths as necessary.

Lesson – Be willing to change the change. In other words adapt to the dynamic environment in method while remaining committed to the goals in principle.

Mistake #1 – Lack of Timely, Informative Communication

I have yet to visit an organization where the majority felt management communicated too much. Ironically, management in the same organizations often feels they communicate well. Why the disconnect?

Consider this context. Most of us are accustomed to more data than we can digest. Do a quick Internet search on any topic and note the number of results (in millions).

Give the team members as many updates as possible and let them filter for their own needs. Formal and informal channels buzzing with information is the life-blood of any change effort. Continually adapt the communication to meet the receivers’ expectations, needs and demands. This dialogue alone can create a healthier work setting.

Lesson - Communicate more than you think necessary ... and remember this is a two-way street.

What do you see as the top three change management mistakes?


Here is a related article.

Process Design in Operations Management (business process management) – “We all know there’s design … and then there’s DESIGN! From beautiful houses and buildings to boats – you name it – design makes all the difference in a great or just-ok outcome. Organizations are no different … design matters … a lot.”


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