Top 10 Challenges to Change Management "Done Right"

Lynn Barras
Lynn Barras

You have probably heard some flavor of the old adage, "There's a difference between just doing things and doing them right."  

Change Management Challenges Change Ahead Sign Procurement

It speaks to the importance of being very intentional in our choices and actions versus being satisfied with just making an effort of any size. Often, it's the difference between really being effective in what we do and...well...just "being".  Fact is, we face these kinds of choices throughout our day, in both our work and in our personal lives.

For me, my work consists of creating "people strategies" (change management) to help a client implement a new system or process. It's pretty rare (unheard of, actually) to have a client say, "We don't want our people to make a long-term fact, we really don't care if they go back and do things the old way once this project ends." It doesn't matter if it's a simple eSourcing event or a full-scale procurement transformation; we want the change - in behavior, technology, whatever - to  be lasting.  That means not just "doing things" but doing things right.

From a change management perspective, how do we do things right?  Well, every company is different but there are some principles that get in the way of doing things right.  Here is the top 10 List:

#10.  "If you build it, they will come."

Great advice from the voice in the cornfield in the movie "Field of Dreams", but lousy advice when it comes to asking people to make changes.  "Doing nothing" leaves too much to chance.

#9. "Blowing Smoke"

There is almost always some "downside" with a change.  We are asking people to learn and do things differently and that typically means asking those same people to give up doing something else.  Don't run from this reality!  Be honest.  Admit the challenge and acknowledge the differences between old and new and the potential feelings of loss, anger, confusion, etc.  then, work to equip people with tools and resources to adapt.

#8. "Don't ask me...I'm just a Sponsor"

Having the title "Executive Sponsor" means nothing if you are not willing to be actively involved.  How involved?  Well, if you are a sponsor, you are a leader and your role as a leader is to provide resources, remove roadblocks, and serve as a decision-maker.  If you are not willing to take on these roles, then let's find someone who is.

#7. "One size fits all"

We say it a lot, but often don't act on it...people learn and process information differently.  If you communicate through only one channel or train through one medium, you risk not connecting with everyone in your audience.

#6. "Avoid the dissenters!"

We do not typically like to hear bad news and, even less, the opinions of naysayers.  Ignoring those folks, however, won't necessarily make them go away.  In fact, it might just strengthen them.  The better approach is usually to engage the "dissenting opinion" and learn more about their concerns, frustrations, and perspectives.  You then have a much better chance of addressing those issues, and you might even create "champions" in the process.

#5. "Just check the box and move on"

Change management activities sometimes take the form of a necessary evil on the project plan.  People like to throw around terms like "stakeholder" and "resistance" to show that they're on board with the idea, but in practice these efforts are viewed only as activities that must be completed to give the perception that "people matter".  Change management must be woven into the project plan...integrated and evaluated before, during, and after the project.

#4. "Lack of flexibility"

Yes, you have to plan your change initiatives.  And yes, you need to work your plan.  However, you also have to be willing to accept that your plan will need to be adjusted and updated throughout the process (maybe even "trashed" at some point in favor of a new plan).  After all, we're dealing with people and their emotions - things that can change daily.  Bottom line - be ready to accept change!

#3. "Short-term thinking"

I alluded to this in #5, but wanted to call it out specifically.  Truly effective change management should focus on creating sustainable change in an organization.  That is, change that lasts after the project ends.   Just as important, our efforts should be focused on creating commitment to change (long-term effectiveness), not just compliance (short-term effectiveness).  Think beyond the project plan!

#2. "Analysis paralysis"

Some personality types (and, as a result, some organizational cultures) rely heavily on data to make decisions.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing until this need for more and more data slows or stops our efforts.  Sometimes, you just have to take what you know (data), combine it with a gut feel (experience) and make a move.  As long as your effort is well-intended, and your sense of "flexibility" is in place (reference #4 above), most people will respect the effort.

#1. Assuming every roadblock is a "change management" issue

I am convinced we overuse the term "change management", turning it into a "catch-all" bucket to explain all things that don't go exactly as planned.  Let's be clear - effective change management is a structured and intentional approach to addressing the difference between where we start  (i.e. current state) and where we're going (i.e. future state) and the organizational structure at play. As much as we plan - things will break down at times.  People will behave in ways we didn't anticipate.  The system will perform in a way we didn't anticipate.  In these cases, the answer may be related to our change management approach or, as is sometimes the case in life, it may just mean making a decision and moving forward.  Accept it and move on!

How does this compare to your experience?  


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