How To Deal With Change Management Failure

And Turn Negative Results into New Opportunities

Change management failure is almost a constant in business. And, if you look back, you’ll see that in the past 10 years most organizations had to go through major transformations and changes, not only due to the digital disruption but also to survive in their ever-competitive markets. As a result, the trends and principles of project management have also shifted to adapt to the new circumstances.

If you manage change in your workplace, here’s a summary of lessons from thought leaders and researchers around the world—learn from the experts as they explain how to deal with change management failure.

How Often Do Change Management Projects Fail?

It was John Kotter in his book ‘Leading Change’ published back in 1996, who first revealed that 70% of change management projects fail and recent studies haven’t been able to deny this statistic yet.  This means that change management projects will come your way sooner or later and, even if you follow all the established change models, your project might still fail.

But there’s a way to turn negative results into new opportunities by trying different methods and learning from your mistakes.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Debunking Change Management Myths

Shelly Schoen-Rene, founder and CEO of BK Grows, mentions four key myths you should challenge to reduce change management failure. These are:

Collective goals versus individual goals

It makes sense to champion organizational and collective goals, after all, they are meant to be for the common good. However, your team members are likely to experience resistance to change and fear of losing their jobs or being demoted.  And, they will have individual goals like learning new skills or getting into a different industry. The key here is to acknowledge their individual goals to keep them motivated.

Participation versus listening

It goes without saying, communication is pivotal in the success or failure of your project. Your employees can feel forced to participate in the transformation activities and to adopt changes that they don’t really want which will lead them to apathy and disengagement.

To avoid this, active listening is your best friend. Establish channels to listen to your employees before, during, and after the implementation of the new processes, make yourself available, offer them one-to-one meetings, assess their needs, and make them feel part of the process. Transparency and honesty will also contribute to positioning you as a reliable leader.

Time versus commitment

It’s a common assumption that, with time, employees will get used to the changes. But the effectiveness of the change will be constantly questioned. Two systems might run at the same time and you or the executives can be tempted to go back. In this case, you need to commit to the changes made and avoid judging the success of the change until it’s deployed in full and well tested.

Executive support versus employee support

Change project managers tend to think that executive buy-in is the most important element for the success of their project because they are the decision-makers. But if employees start to really push against the changes or the project, the executives can back off quite quickly too. So, you’ll need to make sure you have as much executive support as employee support through the whole process.

But if these change management principles don’t work…

7 Questions To Improve Your Change Management

According to a recent study by the University of Oviedo in Northern Spain about the causes for project failure , time, lack of quality checks, no communication skills, inaccurate requirements, and differences between departments are the most common causes for change management project failure. However, every project is different and these causes might be different for you.

Once your project is called off,  move on from looking for culprits. Instead, focus on discussing the weaknesses you encountered and do not ignore the truth.

Recognising failure is not easy, it might jeopardize your career or the organization’s reputation but it is the first step to transform those weaknesses into strengths and minimize risks on the next successful change initiative you manage.

You can start by asking yourself and your team  these 7 questions: 

  1. What did work well?

Study the positive aspects first. Not everything on the project would have failed, so look at what went well and compare it with what didn’t. Can you spot any differences? If so, you will have your first clue about what you need to improve.

2. How was your communications approach?

Ask for feedback from your team, employees, and clients if you can. Think about the frequency of your communications, the channels, and the messages. Did the information reach the target audience on time through the most effective medium?

3. Was your strategy well developed?

This was probably your first step but it’ll be worth going back and look at this again. Were there any glitches? Or would you do something different this time? Did you follow the change management principles? 4.  Where were your weaknesses?

During the change process, you might have spotted some grey areas, challenges, or other issues that needed attention. Make a note of those and think about what you need to do to improve them. Asking for external advice can be an option to deliver those improvements.

4. Did you have the right team?

The people you work with make a huge difference to the failure or success of your project. Consider if they had the expertise, goals, and commitment needed and whether they got along well or there was some rivalry.

5. Did you have enough resources?

The lack of resources is a clear indicator of project failure. Think about the resources that you had and consider if they were appropriate for the scope of the project. Did you experience financial difficulties? Did you have updated software and equipment?

6. Did you set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based) goals?

Setting attainable goals will determine the outcome of your project.  Consider if you set very ambitious goals, were you able to measure your success appropriately? Did you have some time issues?

Rick Rothermel from LaMarsh Global, an organizational change consultancy based in Chicago,  explains what he learned from change management failure.

Learn from Rick Rothermel, a change management expert and thought leader. 

Remember, the big ones fail, too…

You wouldn’t think of Google as an organization that fails but here are 10 examples of Google products that didn’t work . The truth is that, sometimes, change management failure is unavoidable but if you turn that lack of success into an opportunity to grow, you will end up with invaluable experience to apply on future projects. Some other times, you might have to use trial and error techniques to find the best possible option and who knows what you might find along the way.

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