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4 reasons why change initiatives fail

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As your organization grows, change is inevitable. Whether it’s changing your business model or your go-to-market strategy, there will come a time when you’re rolling out something new to your employees.

While this change is necessary and critical, change itself can be hard. You may wonder: Is there a better way to manage change? What are the common pitfalls, and how can you avoid them?

Jeanie Duck, management consultant and author of “The Change Monster,” has studied and facilitated organizational change firsthand. At the 2019 Optima Conference, Duck spoke extensively about why change initiatives fail—and what you can do to circumvent these issues. 

According to Duck, here are four common reasons change initiatives fail:

Once you’ve decided on a change effort to pursue, it can be tempting to hit the ground running with little preparation. But as the saying goes: Failing to plan is planning to fail. 

To ensure effective change management, you need to plan. Without a plan, you fall prey to these common mistakes:

1. The leadership isn’t united in its approach.

Duck’s prior experiences with change initiatives span both countries and industries. What she found was that, regardless of culture or specialization, the No. 1 cause of failure organizations encountered was a lack of unity at the top.

Duck noted that just because executives came up with a plan didn’t mean they were going to support it and see it through. Even if senior leadership is aligned on strategy, it doesn’t mean they’re going to commit to a unified, structured approach.

It may seem like a daunting task, but Duck offered a unique solution. She encouraged all executives she consulted with to speak at multiple company meetings about their organization’s vision. In doing so, she forced execs to share notes, get on the same page, and speak as a sole voice. 

Plus, when executives speak publicly about their new strategy, they’ll be held to what they say—and are more likely to commit to it.

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2. Employees aren’t prepared for change.

According to Duck, it takes nine conversations to get employees committed to a new change initiative. That is to say, it’ll take the initial announcement, plus constant reinforcement, to communicate that new vision and get people on board.

When preparing your organization for the change ahead, you need to put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Duck recommends asking, “What do I want people to think, feel, and do, by when?”

3. The change isn’t well-communicated to employees.

To convince employees to embrace the change ahead, you need to design a plan that caters to their wants and needs.

As much as executives want employees to commit from day one, it’s easier said than done. A myriad of factors come into play when persuading employees to embrace the change—from having the right messaging to having an organizational culture that’ll support the transition.

At the end of the day, you need to communicate three things to team members:

  • What they’re expected to do
  • Who else is involved
  • What’s in it for them

This takes time to see through. But if you want your employees to see eye-to-eye with senior leadership, it’s a critical step in the process that can make or break your change initiative.

Jeanie Duck talking about change initiatives at OPTIMA 2019

4. Leaders don’t see the initiative through.

Once your initiative has begun, how does management ensure it doesn’t become a failure rate statistic?

According to Duck, leadership has to truly listen to and hear their employees. In her words: “How can you lead if you do not know where the followers are?”

Senior leaders may be anxious to hand off their initiative to sales or engineering, put up their hands, and say “we’ve done our part.” After all, they’ve likely been planning this initiative for months—far before any mid- or entry-level employees came into the mix.

However, this is all the more reason for leadership to see the initiative through. Management must be present for every step of this journey to make sure any roadblocks are identified, understood, and then addressed. And being receptive to the human side of this—how employees react to and process change—is an important part of the process.

The PI Employee Experience Survey can help.

The PI Employee Experience Survey™ is a simple tool management can use to tackle this issue head-on. The Employee Experience Survey provides an opportunity for employees to provide candid, confidential feedback across four engagement categories—job, manager, organization, and team.

Traditional employee engagement engagement tools take inventory of a situation, but provide little in the way of takeaways. The Employee Experience Survey, by contrast, provides actionable solutions that help get the ball rolling from day one. Better yet, it provides personalized management plans at both the company and team levels—ensuring leaders can keep a strong pulse on the organization and nurture employees throughout crucial periods of change.

In the words of Duck, if management fails to keep this pulse, something is “guaranteed” to go wrong.

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David is a content writer and editor at PI. He loves Broadway and the Boston Celtics!

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