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The Biggest Threats to Your Change Programme

Don't let your change programme be disrupted by these avoidable pitfalls.

Organizations are littered with the debris of change initiatives that have failed to deliver their expected benefits and promised results.

A wide range of reasons can be attributed to these failures, ranging from ill-informed practice to lack of leadership support. But what are the real threats to change programmes? And how should we address them? Read on to find out...

Lack of Stakeholder Engagement

More often than not, a change driven from the top fails to engage properly with the front-line operational staff.

Successful change does not just happen due to the efforts of one leader who drives the change on their own and takes all the credit, but instead is due to the involvement of those impacted by the change. Yet, when organizations are faced with the prospect and speed of change, they often fail to include relevant people. Engagement of stakeholders is 'a must-do, not nice-to-have' activity as engaged employees are more likely to support change initiatives and are more resilient in the face of change.

Change programmes should, whenever it is feasible, be constructed or negotiated with rather than something that is done to stakeholders.

Stakeholder engagement requires the identification of the relevant stakeholders and this can be conducted through a mapping exercise. This involves addressing questions such as: Who are the current and potential stakeholders? What are their interests/rights in OC? How does each stakeholder affect the OC? How will the OC affect each stakeholder? Identifying and engaging stakeholders in change programs can also help to build relationships with those who can and will exercise their power and political means, in covert and overt ways, to subvert any change. The engagement of stakeholders needs to be an on-going and dynamic activity during a change programme.

Mismanaged Change

Change programmes can be mismanaged in a number of ways. There may be inadequate day-to-day management skills, such as:

  • Poor planning, monitoring and control
  • A focus on more tasks than on the people involved
  • A lack of milestones along the way
  • Failing to monitor progress and take corrective action
  • A lack of the necessary resources
  • A lack of the relevant expertise

Additionally, change programmes can be mismanaged when the impact of previous changes is ignored. The history of change in an organization shapes employees’ attitudes towards future change and how they behave towards it. Managing change entails addressing and resolving this issue before proceeding with new change programmes to avoid a strong likelihood of derailment later.

Implementing changes, especially those that are strategic, is like driving a car and should involve a rear view inspection of the history of change management in the organisation. Managers need to pay attention to employee change beliefs arising from the history of change in the organization, otherwise, the ghosts of changes past will return to haunt them.

Change can also be mismanaged when managers ignore the pace – how quickly or slow the change needs to be implemented; the sequence, such as the time order of key elements in the change process; and the linearity – the orientation, continuance and resolution in the change process. These are all key elements which need to be considered as part of the planning process.

Lack of Attention to People's Concerns & Well-being

Many changes programmes are threatened, even though brilliantly orchestrated, because people still have concerns; Will I be negatively impacted financially?

Managers need to identify these concerns and where possible work to eradicate or lessen them. Failure to pay constant attention to managing personal issues, before the change is fully anchored in the workplace, can result in lost momentum or erosion of the change. If the personal issues of committed individuals are ignored and their commitment is lost, the negative impact of individuals withdrawing their support, either openly or covertly, can be highly damaging to the implementation effort.

The ability to develop individuals who are committed and willing to engage with change will depend on a manager’s ability to adopt a supportive approach throughout the change. When positive performance towards the change is observed it must not be taken for granted that it will be maintained. Managers need to identify behaviour that indicates a lack of commitment or opposition to the change, discuss these behaviours with the individual/s concerned and address issues which may be concerning individuals, such as job security, financial impact, work relationships, levels of responsibility and learning and development needs. Managers need to respond effectively, and in a timely manner, to the personal concerns and reactions of people to the change, in order to maintain their support.

Lack of Readiness to Change

If employees are not ready to transition to new ways of working and believe that the organization should not initiate the change for various reasons this can threaten the change programme.

An individual’s readiness depends on whether they perceive the benefits of change outweighing the anticipated risks. Each person perceives the significance of change differently. As a result, the readiness level may vary on the basis of what employees perceive as the balance between the costs and benefits of the status quo and the costs and benefits of change.

The state of an individual’s readiness can range from being excited about and open to the change to being fearful of, or anxious about it and opposed to giving up their current ways of working. Reactions are often based on the uncertainty of not knowing how the change will impact on an individual’s job.

Yet during change, many managers fail to deal with uncertainty, impose decisions on employees, and fail to reassure employees of their worth to the organization. This can lead to a decrease in an individual’s readiness for change. In turn, this may cause employees to oppose change at a time when the organization really needs their support. The likelihood of a manager being able to implement and manage change successfully without people being ready is arguably like a toddler trying to walk before they are able to crawl, which is possible for some but impossible for most.

Assessing readiness for change can help managers in identifying the key issues that they need to address in planning and implementing a change programme. There are several approaches to readiness assessment that managers can use singly, in concert, or in multiple combinations such as: observing employees reactions to proposed change; being attentive to rumours, and increases in absence or turnover, or any unusual behaviour which can be associated with denial or resistance to change; and reactions and views from employees can be solicited in one-to-one or small group interviews, with managers interviewing their employees about their views and feelings about the change. A more formal approach is to conduct an organizational survey. Such a survey can help to provide feedback anonymously about concerns, issues, ideas and suggestions.

Lack of Ownership for Change

People often say that they do not know how they fit into the change because they have not been involved in the planning process. The response from managers tends to be: ‘Here’s the change; this is why we have to change, here is how it will change – now own the change’. This does not work. What does work is ownership.

Managers need to ensure that employees, as well as they themselves, feel a sense of personal ownership of change. That way, they will put far more effort into making it a success.

Ownership of change needs to be built and maintained. People need to own the change, that is to take personal responsibility for those aspects of the change which they can control or influence. Ownership is often best created by involving people in identifying problems and crafting solutions and it is reinforced by incentives and rewards.

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