The Pitfalls of Change Leadership: Why Do Most Initiatives Fail?

The Pitfalls of Change Leadership: Why Do Most Initiatives Fail?
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Organizational change is often perceived as negative, where the mere thought of it is enough to send employees into a frenzy.

Our brains are hardwired to resist the unknown, mostly through a fear of uncertainty. Anything that deviates from our comfort zone is naturally resisted, despite there being potential for positive implications.

As people, we must embrace change rather than running from it.

Though it seems unnatural to do so, it’s important to know that the unfamiliar isn’t as scary as you might think, especially when driven by great change leadership.

Why Do Staff Resist Change Leadership?

Organizational change can be explained from a scientific perspective, where our brain automatically compares new stuff to things we’re already familiar with.

This process uses up a lot of energy, and it’s a vicious cycle when wasted mental energy increases fear. Internal panic can lead to a resistance to change, which can affect the advancement of organizations.

These reactions present unique challenges, and are a contributor to organizational change failing. Encouraging new processes can be a losing battle when staff fail to fundamentally accept them, and that’s without considering differences in motivation, expertise, experience, and learning styles.

Building commitment to change is tough, but the challenges don’t stop there!

To help you avoid the most common pitfalls which stall change, we have collected some mistakes to look out for. By identifying these in the planning stages, you can implement measures to reduce their impact, or perhaps prevent them from happening in the first place.

Inadequate Support From Executives

Just like any initiative, without support from influential leaders, change loses potency. Words aren’t enough either, it’s the actions of leaders that define the change in question.

Vocal support is one thing, but being a true change champion and model for the rest of the organization is how you truly encourage staff to follow. Change leadership involves communicating benefits of change, while listening for their responses. Active involvement proves the organization is committed to change, and it’s this level of support that leads to process improvement.

Too often change processes fail through a lack of executive support, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break the mold to improve outcomes.

Lack of Resources

Organizations are constantly looking to cut costs, and when change isn’t prioritized, change processes can be one of the first areas that’s stripped of resources. This is a leading failure factor, especially when you realize sustainable change requires a long term investment.

You can have the most awesome plan in the world, but if you can’t back it up with tangible resources, it looks like you’ll have a problem on your hands. The cycle of implementation, testing, refinement, and reinforcement is a long process that requires patience, and most importantly funding. Without these, you won’t realize the full benefits of change.

Poor Change Leadership Skills

This is unquestionably the number 1 cause of failed change. Without proper change leadership, you lack an authority figure shaping the direction of change, and executive support from an influential figure.

If an inadequate change leader is responsible for attempting transition, who is responsible for preventing or solving problems which so often occur?

Lack of leadership doesn’t just affect change management, but it affects multiple aspects of project management. Your change leader should be competently trained, so they can leverage the prerequisite skills necessary to generate success.

This is sorely missing in most structures, where most leaders feel they can run change initiatives in the same way organizations are run. This is contrary to them being contrastingly different, where change processes must be flexible, driven by a readily adaptable leader.

Failure to Focus on People

The people responsible for implementing change, whether management or front-line staff, are the most important contributors of all. Too often organizations preference systems over people, which is foolish when you consider it’s people who drive change. Even when you implement new software, it is people who will be responsible for using it, so remember to prioritize staff needs and well-being.

Create a two-way dialogue, and make your staff feel appreciated by empathizing with their situation.

A Lack of Planning

Leaders become too preoccupied with the solution, and consequently get too far ahead of themselves. If you dive right into the design stage, your change process will fall flat.

Upfront planning is crucial to provide structure to your initiatives, especially because you can plan for problems in advance, and work out how you’ll deal with them.

Your plan should begin with an identification of the conditions and activities that will lead to success. This includes things like change roles, governance, decision-making, stakeholder engagement, communications, timeline, resources, and capability. These should be integrated with maximum speed and efficiency, while understanding change takes time.

Your plan should account for the patience necessary to be successful, understanding not everyone accepts change on the same timeline. With a well-designed plan and an optimistic outlook, you’ll reduce the likelihood of resistance.

Christopher Smith
Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.
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