The “why” behind your change management strategy is as important as the “what” or “how.”

Change Management Strategy: 5 Biggest Roadblocks And 3 Keys To Avoiding Them


What type of change management strategy do you consider employing? Recognizing the fact that only 54% of change management initiatives even succeed (according to the 2013 /Katzenbach Center survey of global senior executives on culture and change management) your strategy should be well thought out.

While each organization should approach their change management strategy in a way that reflects their culture, there are some common roadblocks that can bring your initiative to a screeching halt. Below are the top 5 roadblocks to your change management strategy success and 3 ways to avoid them.


Major Roadblocks:


#1 Too Sudden

For many of your employees that have been busy keeping their heads down and getting their work done, your change initiative will feel totally out of left field. Your rationale may be very sound, but to them it feels like a shocking slap in the face. They weren’t part of the team that reviewed the data or part of the committee that created the plan. In fact, the first they are hearing about it is in a team meeting or company wide email. In these situations, a few things happen.

First, they didn’t have an open mind when hearing about the impending changes. When this happens, people tend to shut down even further and their defenses go up. People need to be in the right mindset to even hear about the changes coming.

Second, because they weren’t included in the lead up, they don’t have the information or time to internalize and adjust to the change initiative. It’s no wonder everyone leaves the process feeling frustrated. For leaders concerned about this roadblock, I’d consider a lead up phase where the challenges facing the organization are communicated and the team is given a voice in the conversation. In the Team Innovation Workshops we’ve conducted, getting people steeped in the realities of the business goes a long way in getting buy-in to the solutions that come later.


#2 Change Fatigue

65% of respondents to the Katzenbach Center survey felt something we call “change fatigue” It’s the exhaustion that sets in when you feel like you are being asked to make what is considered to be too many changes. It’s like that old phrase, “death by a thousand paper cuts”. It’s important to remember that what may be one change to you at the leadership level, can turn into two dozen small but significant changes to your employees. If they feel as if they’ve already made a lot of changes, fatigue will set in before you even get your most recent initiative off the ground. I encourage you to think about the change energy level of your teams before you begin your next initiative and then adjust accordingly.


#3 Wait it Out Syndrome

I see this in organizations that have a “been there before” mindset. Perhaps you’ve tried to initiate a change management strategy before only to lose interest and things eventually fizzled out. Perhaps there is a new theme every quarter and your employees are just waiting for the flavor of the month to pass and the next theme to take priority. The challenge here is that when you mean it, no one cares. Instead they just wait it out knowing that work will eventually go back to business as usual. You’ll want to take a close look at your past behaviors as an organization. Ask yourselves if this could become a huge hurdle for your team.


#4 No Buy In

While I don’t believe in consensus, I do believe in collaboration and buy-in. That happens when everyone is in alignment. Notice I didn’t say agreement. When you have alignment, people may not fully agree with your change management strategy, but they will buy in. In that same survey I keep referencing, 38% said they didn’t agree with the changes.  That’s 38 out of 100 of your employees causing some level of friction to the change you are trying to implement. And those 38% tend to have a negative impact on the remaining 62% as well.

Often times when we come in to dial up the innovation in a team, we find that lack of buy-in is an issue before we walk through those doors. We’ve come to appreciate the need for having a “clear the elephant in the room” or “get everyone on the same page” phase before we can get creative. It may feel like fuzzy feel good time wasted but it makes everything run smoothly later. I would encourage you to have that same level of appreciation for the upfront work that needs to happen before the deep work can begin.

#5 Confusion

44% of Katzenbach Center survey participants reported not understanding the changes they were expected to make. It’s hard to implement a change management strategy if you don’t understand it. Frankly, it’s hard to participate if you don’t understand your role or what you are supposed to do. This statistic tells us that almost half of the people in your organization don’t have a clear picture or action plan. This is particularly frustrating if you have employees out in the field or remote that don’t have the opportunity to clarify their confusion. And most of your team won’t admit to it, because they are afraid of the consequences. That confusion leads to a lack of much needed implementation or change in behavior.

So what do you do about these potential roadblocks?


Key Success Drivers:


#1 Focus On Your Why

Purpose drives people. The “why” behind your change management strategy is as important as the “what” or “how”. We are built to emotionally connect with our work. This couldn’t be more important when it comes to change. When your employees understand the why behind the change, the fear factor goes down and the connection goes up.


#2 Lead With Culture

Always start with your culture. Most change management strategies I’ve seen fail, in part, because they implement change that doesn’t align with their culture.  It’s as if the change is seen as a completely separate project that has nothing to do with the organization's culture. Yet in the real world, the opposite is true.


3# Warm Up The Team

Have you ever jumped on a treadmill and gone full speed without warming up? Doesn’t feel great does it? In fact, it can lead to injuries or in my case, falling off the back of the treadmill. Change works just like the treadmill. If your change management strategy will feel like a major shift in direction, you are likely to fail. This is especially true if you are one of the many organizations that recognize that doing things the way they’ve always been done is putting them on a path to irrelevance and they’ve suddenly woken up and realized change is vital to their existence. But, it feels like jumping on that treadmill at full speed without any preparation. My advice, warm up your teams. Take them to the gym of innovation and let them practice before you bring out the big initiative.

I believe this is why we’ve found our Innovation Quotient Edge (IQE) Assessment to be so useful in the greater change managements strategies. The team understands its ability to be innovative, and starts to put it into practice every day. Think of it as a daily warm up routine that helps them tackle the day’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

Organizations and teams that see change as the constant, and have innovation as part of their culture, have a much higher chance of success with their change management strategy. If you are like many of the organizations out there looking to make some shifts because of changes in the marketplace, I commend you for thinking through your strategy.