10 Signs That Your Change Management Project is Failing

    Aug 2, 2021 | Posted by David Lee

    One of the greatest challenges of helping organisations with Change Management is that they often believe they are already doing it. After all, if you have a good leadership team, they must be capable of leading change. But when we dig down and ask the leaders what they are doing to ensure their organisation is prepared for and executing change strategies, we often find indications either they do not truly grasp Change Management, they do not understand the risks of their change, or that their program is not robust enough to handle the change. Here are some of the top statements that indicate change management may be failing:

    #1 – We are doing Change Management. We have a communications plan: One of the most common signs, this answer is indicative of two potential issues.

    • The organisation may be mistaking communications for Change Management. True, communications is a primary output (and input) to the process but it does not stand alone. A lot has to happen to ensure it is effective. 
    • Perhaps more importantly, is who is doing the communications plan. A Change Management communications plan is vastly different than what most communication departments are used to implementing. Communications departments, often part of Marketing or Public Relations, are quite capable at communicating broad corporate messages. Change Management is about driving communications to the individual level and helping each individual understand both the need for change and how it impacts them. This means coordinating across large numbers of divisions, groups, and functions, and rallying the management to aid in the process while ensuring that feedback is being collected and reported back to the Change Management team.

    #2 – We are doing change management. We have a Training Plan: Another common sign that will often turn up and indicates the potential for two more issues:

    • Here again, we have an indication that leadership is mistaking training for Change Management. Training is a part of the process to ensure that people have the knowledge they need to make a change. That does not mean they have agreed to the change or have adopted the change. Prosci® utilises the world famous ADKAR® model (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement) for individual change. Training affects only Knowledge and Ability.
    • Another issue is that the organisation may be relying on the Change Management team to deliver training. This is a common error that can be catastrophic. In most cases, an SME on the change should deliver the content and ensure it is understood. The role of the Change Manager is to make sure the training is delivered well, that logistics are managed, and that the training has been effective.

    #3– We have hired a (one) Change Manager: This is not necessarily a bad sign. Hiring for the position shows some enlightened leadership, but it also rings a major alarm bell that requires a number of follow up questions:

    • Is the Change Manager experienced? Often, we will find that the change manager is a person who has been reassigned from a department without training or previous experience. This means a huge ramp up time and a lot of mistakes that could be avoided by hiring an experienced person or consultant.
    • Is the Change Manager also the Project Manager? These are different disciplines requiring different skill. Also, each role can be a large amount of work. Only a rare person can manage both simultaneously.
    • Is the Change Manager solely responsible for executing change management or do they have the authority and resources to implement throughout the organisation? If by having a Change Manager, we think the process is covered, we may have a major problem.
    • How many changes is this Change Manager task to implement? Often this becomes a role that is quickly overwhelmed and ends up reporting on change rather than actually implementing change management. The result is reporting failure to make changes.

    If any or all of the above are at issue: This is so often the case and indicates a looming calamity.

    #4 – We have Change Management as part of our project team: This is not necessarily a problem either; however, we would want to better understand the structure and specifically access to the Sponsor. If the Change Management resource is reporting to the Project Manager, then the Sponsor may not be getting the full story and will be unable to react accordingly. Ideally, Change Management is at least at the same level of the Project Manager and has direct access to the Sponsor. The Change Manager’s role is to coach the Sponsor, ensure that she knows the issues, and help them mitigate challenges. They cannot be required to work through a funnel and expected to achieve results.

    #5 – Change management is part of Human Resources (or any functional area): Where the Change Management function lies is not necessarily the issue. Since Change Management focuses on the people side of change, HR may seem like a logical fit. Change Management may also be in operations, innovation, or other change related areas where people are the focus. What we would seek to understand is whether the functional area Change Management reports to is also integral to the part of the organisation where the change is happening. Is the functional area engaged in the project planning and implementation, do they have Change Management training, and do they have access to the Sponsors of the change? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then the structure needs to be reassessed.

    #6 – We don't need Change Management, everyone supports the change: This one always makes me shake my head because it is never true. I remember a particular client who announced that they were doing a system upgrade at their global meeting and the announcement received a standing ovation. The reaction convinced them that everyone was on board. “We don’t need a lot of Change Management,” they said, “Everyone supports the change.” Two years later they were staring at major implementation issues due to resistance, low adoption, low utilisation and short timelines. Even assuming that people are genuine in their initial support for a future state, resistance can grow over time as people learn more and are affected by the change. Anticipating and monitoring resistance is a key activity of Change Management to make sure that support is maintained.

    #7 – The change is a small one, we don’t need Change Management: Unlikely. This can be true if the change is entirely seamless and no people are affected. In any other case, it is worth the investment, even on small changes, assess the change implications. The organisation is making an investment and such an assessment is just good due diligence.

    #8 – We have assigned a Sponsor: This answer is one of the scariest I get. Prosci® ’s extensive research shows that the number one factor for success is the engagement of the Sponsor. Often, we will find that the leader who conceived of the change is not the sponsor but rather has assigned an underling. This is major sign of potential failure for several reasons:

    • The leader may have decided to distance herself from the change and created an option not to be responsible for results. Even if this is not the case, the perception is can be devastating to the process.
    • The person assigned may not be as passionate or interested in the change as the person who conceived it. They may have felt it necessary to take on the role but not really want it. A lack of interest will eventually show through to the rest of the organisation subverting the change.
    • The person assigned may not have the skills or traits to be a good Sponsor. This means a major learning curve is in front of her. The person assigned must have the standing to lead the change particularly with other leadership, the authority to remove roadblocks to the change, and to adapt the strategy as necessary.

    #9 – We have several Sponsors but not a Primary Sponsor: Oi… this is even worse than assigning a Sponsor. Here we assume that a group is leading the change, that they all fully support the change, and that they are cohesive in their level of agreement and approach. But, when is that really ever the case and where is the accountability? While every change should have a coalition of sponsors, driving a change without a Primary Sponsor, leads down long winding roads of dysfunction, finger pointing, miscommunication and passive resistance.

    #10 – We will focus on sustainability at a later stage: Many practitioners of change will look at the change process as linear and consider how to sustain the change only after implementation. Sustainability starts at the outset when creating the change strategy, or better, early in the development of the future state itself. Determining expected outcomes, understanding how to measure against those outcomes, developing how to report progress to the organisation, and identifying the meaning of outcomes at all levels are all items that should occur at or near the beginning and should be carried out throughout the change process. If your team has not thought about sustainability early, this is a huge sign that they do not have not thought through the process.

    Over the last twenty years, Change Management as a discipline has become an expectation of organisations that want to succeed with their investments. That does not mean, however, that everyone has an equal understanding of how it should be implemented. By understanding the signs, leaders can identify if they need specialised or outside assistance or training from people who have experience driving the change process. Leaders can also look at what they expect of themselves.

    If you are leading an organisational change and one or more of these signs rings true to you, it makes sense to take a step back and do a quick assessment of your efforts. The organisation is a making an investment in the project you are leading. Your responsibility is to see that every effort is made to see the return on investment is realised.

    Topics: Business Performance Improvement, project management, Managing Change