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Why Does Change Management Fail (And What To Do About It)

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Change isn’t easy. It’s estimated that 70% of change projects fail. We need a better approach to change to avoid the most common pitfalls and successfully implement change programs in our organizations.


As leaders and senior management, it is our job to lead change. We need to identify and implement change projects that move us to our desired future. These change projects are called strategic priorities and a key steps in the disciplined execution of our plans.

"If the rate of change on the outside (of your company) exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

- Jack Welch, Winning

This is the first article in our series about change in organizations. For more information about this series visit our Change Resources page.

Why Do Some Change Management Strategies Fail?

There is plenty of research exploring the reasons why change management fails in organizations. Most of the causes fall into these three categories:

  1. Ignorance of the nature of change itself
  2. Lack of resources and planning
  3. Poor communication
Sean Fitzgerald explains the 3 Pitfalls of Change Management

Organizational change is less about assets, money, or processes, and much more about people. If enough people resist a particular change initiative, no matter how logical and needed it is, it just won’t happen.

In this article, we’ll explore in detail the causes of change management failures, and what you can do about it. In our upcoming articles on change, we will also present the Results Change Process, a proven structure to guide all change initiatives in your organization

Change Campaign Lead Magnet

For now, let’s look at the most common examples of failed change management, their pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Pitfalls in Change Initiatives

Here’s a list of the most common pitfalls and how to plan for or even diffuse them proactively:

Reason #1: Misunderstanding Change

  • Assuming change is easy - Understand that change is complex in organizations. It can impact people, processes, tools, systems, and structure.
  • Not knowing the stages of change - Recognize that change moves through 3 distinct phases – the starting point or current state, the transition period, and the future state - and different actions and tactics are required for each of these stages.
  • Underestimating resistance - Chances are any large-scale or significant change within an organization will be met with resistance. Before deciding to initiate a change project, leaders must holistically assess the amount of resistance that will be encountered and the time and cost of overcoming that resistance. This should be part of both the decision and planning process. A change initiative will fail if it doesn’t take into account potential resistance and its impact on the organizational culture.
  • Thinking everyone responds to change in the same way - Some people are more naturally wired for change, while others thrive on stability and structure. All these personality styles have value, and everyone needs to feel safe to voice their feelings. Leaders must authentically listen to their employees when planning and executing change.

Reason #2: Inadequate Planning

  • Poor alignment of the change to the business needs and direction - All change management plans must be undertaken in the context of a sound business strategy and vision. Ask yourself, does this change move us closer to our vision?
  • Lack of buy in from all stakeholders - Significant change projects should be viewed from all perspectives – company owners, ALL employees, departments, customers, vendors, government agencies, and the community at large. To whatever extent possible, change project planning should involve people from each stakeholder group. As the old saying goes, “those who plan the battle don’t battle the plan.”
  • Too much rigidity during change project execution - Things never go exactly as planned. As experience grows and new information presents itself, be prepared to shift and adapt. Revisit the plan frequently.
  • Insufficient time and money - Change has a cost. Sound project management approaches can help identify the needed money and time required to execute the change.
  • Organizational change fatigue - Leaders must take stock of all the change projects taking place and carefully sequence them. Research shows that companies often try to execute too much change simultaneously. Stacking change projects risks everyone’s ability to cope.
  • Not establishing clear roles for the change project - Significant change projects must have at least three roles. The project manager creates and stewards the goals, tasks, schedule, and milestones of the project. The change champion is the liaison to all employees - listening to their concerns and supporting individualized skill development and training. Finally, the change sponsor is a senior leader ensuring the resources are available for the project and keeps the project visible to the senior team.
  • Lack of continuous learning - Regular checkpoints must exist in the project where progress is measured, learning is captured, and adjustments to the path are established. A formal debrief should also be conducted following project execution to capture lessons learned which will be applied to future projects.

Reason #3: Poor Communication

  • Assuming the reasons a change are obvious and self-evident - Leaders typically have more and different information than other employees. Don’t assume what you know is known to everyone – transparently share, educate, and repeat the rationale and purpose for the change.
  • Loss of momentum - In our fast-paced world, new opportunities and threats arrive almost daily. And it can be easy to forget about past decisions and projects that are still in progress. Leaders must maintain a rhythm of communication around change projects, sharing progress and celebrating even the smallest of wins.
  • Thinking communication is only needed internally - All organizations are interdependent with other parties outside the organization itself. The communication plan for the change needs to include internal and external components. Think broadly and don’t forget about suppliers and vendors, shareholders, customers, community and possibly even regulators and government agencies.

Successfully Navigating Change

Without change organizations will not remain relevant and competitive. Eventually they die. Becoming change-able, adaptable and nimble, is very likely the most important characteristic for our companies now and in the future.

If you’d like to learn how to lead change more effectively in your organization, or other ways you can take the simpler path to creating a great business, connect with us or consider attending one of our upcoming leadership events.