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14 ways to sabotage the change you are trying to create

Failure rates for corporate change are high. Some statistics suggest they are as high as 70 per cent. What are the mistakes that too many change leaders continue to make?

1. Misdiagnosing scope

Who will be affected, how much it will cost, how long it will take and how radical does a change need to be? Scope out the extent of change needed to deliver the outcomes you are chasing. Be thorough, be realistic. Your budget, schedule and staff will thank you.

2. Underestimating cultural and behaviour dynamics

Leaders generally know what outputs they expect change to deliver (competitiveness, cost cuts, innovations). Take time to clearly define cultural and behavioural outcomes. This will facilitate change and help it stick.

3. Not creating capacity

Overworked, under resourced leaders and staff find it hard to take on board the message of change, and adopt new processes and behaviours to support it. Create capacity for change.

4. Poor timing

Make the right change, at the right time and be realistic about how long it will take to embed.

5. Ignoring the resisters

Resistance can undermine the best laid change plans. Expect resistance, understand its causes, deal with with it constructively.

6. Misunderstanding resistance

Manage resistance by understanding its cause: is it constructive resistance, with employees challenging assumptions? Is it based on fear and uncertainty? Understanding why people are resistant is the first step to getting them on board.

7. A poorly formed vision

Articulating the new direction for the team and purpose for the organisation gives a change plan direction and credibility.

8. Removing the sense of control

This creates fear, resistance and resentment. Allow people to keep a sense of control over their work, and over the change that surrounds them.

9. Undervaluing short term wins

You’re headed for a brave new future but it may take some time. Celebrate small wins along the way, including the new behaviours you are looking for.

10. Forgetting accountability

The leader is accountable for change. Leaders and managers are accountable for implementing aspects of the change. Individual team members are accountable for playing their part to create change. Clear accountability for all aspects of the change helps with buy-in and execution.

11. Communicating poorly

Communicate the why, what and how of organisational change. Contextualise your communications, communicate regularly, with respect and empathy.

12. Communicating too much but doing too little

Avoid-all-talk-and-no-action to keep the change credible and people on board.

13. Creating “a burning platform”

Many change experts say trying to create constructive change when business is bad and the stakes are too high, is detrimental to smart, innovative strategic change. (If your platform is actually burning, it’s probably smart to change. Just don’t feel you need to set it alight yourself.)

14. Top-down change

Avoid planning and executing change which actively involves only the few individuals at the top of the organisation.

Industry example: Dead men walking

Poor communication can drive truly disastrous outcomes, as illustrated by this example from an IML member working in the telecommunications industry:

“An announcement was made that meant a number of people in a particular team were to be made redundant. The team was identified but not the extent of the job cuts or the date it was going to happen. The uncertainty had a huge impact on the people affected. They called themselves ‘dead men walking’ and turned up each day waiting for the axe to fall, but it didn’t, not for months. By the time the anticipated changes were made, other priorities meant that a number of the people who thought they were going to be impacted weren’t. In the meantime an enormous amount of productivity was lost, morale damaged and stress caused.”

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