For any business, change is inevitable. Organizations that do not adapt to the circumstances of their industry may eventually fall to the wayside—joining the likes of Blockbuster and Radio Shack.
However, according to surveys by OnPoint, roughly 70% of change initiatives fail to meet their objectives—a number that hasn’t fluctuated much from what it was in 1995. Those same surveys revealed that only 46% of participants believed that their companies have a good track record of managing change.
Even though change initiatives may start off well, there are a few problems that often sabotage these initiatives—hindering progress and compromising employee commitment to the change initiative.
Some of the pitfalls that organizations should avoid include:
1: Expecting People to Handle Both the Change and Their Regular Workloads
One of the most common mistakes that businesses of all sizes make during a major organizational change is that they add new responsibilities to employees at all levels without allocating additional resources.
Employees have regular duties that they need to perform aside from managing the change-related tasks. By creating more work, but not allocating additional resources to compensate, businesses burden their employees—forcing them to choose between supporting the change or focusing on regular duties.
To maintain a commitment to the change at all levels, organizations need to allocate sufficient resources to support the change initiative. This also means making a realistic assessment of the change initiative milestones and targeted completion date to avoid trying to do too much in a short time.
2: “Do as I Say, not as I Do”
If there’s one thing that will get employees to disengage with a change initiative in a hurry, it’s the perception of a double standard. When employees are held to a standard of behavior, but their leaders are not, it can cause the initiative to lose credibility.
Leaders need to model the behaviors that support the change initiative to keep employees committed to the change. For example, if employees are expected to change their behavior, leaders should make an effort to be early adopters and model the desired behavior change. If employees are tasked to meet a specific quota, leaders should hold themselves accountable for providing support and sharing in the responsibility alongside their employees.
3: Not Being Transparent
When talking about a change initiative, leaders must be open and honest about the initiative and its impact—or else risk losing the trust of their employees.
In OnPoint’s surveys on change, 64% of respondents stated that “open and honest communication from leaders makes change easier, even when they don’t have all the answers.” By clearly communicating the impact of the change initiative (both positive and negative) to the best of their ability, leaders can preserve trust and keep their employees invested in the change.
It is especially important to make sure that the goals of the change are clear. This helps keep employees on the same page as leaders so they can focus on the most important behaviors that will bring the organization closer to accomplishing its objectives.
4: Treating a Change as a “Set and Forget” Task
Many organizations invest enormous amounts of time and energy into creating a plan for change that clearly communicates and prioritizes the steps to accomplish the change. Then, these organizations launch the initiative and promptly move on to the next initiative—assuming that the plan is “perfect” and that employees will stay committed to the change without any further input.
The problem is that no plan, no matter how detailed, could possibly account for every eventuality. Once the plan is put into motion, businesses often discover that their initial assumptions require modification and the actions need to be adjusted.
For this reason, a change initiative should be treated as a living document—something to be revisited and modified in response to unanticipated problems and opportunities as they arise.
5: Not Getting Mid-Level Management On Board
While conventional wisdom emphasizes how important it is to get the senior leadership on board with a change initiative, there’s one group that should be focused on: mid-level managers. In OnPoint’s research, top-performing companies (those that were more frequently successful at meeting change initiative goals) consistently had greater involvement and investment among mid-level managers than underperforming companies.
One reason for this may be that these individuals tend to do most of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to implementations and have numerous direct reports who look to these mid-level managers for direction. They’re closer to the action and they can exert greater influence over their teams than more remote, senior-level executives.
Getting buy-in from mid-level management is also a core part of maintaining enthusiasm and momentum for the duration of the change initiative. Without support from leaders who are in direct contact with them, employees simply aren’t as likely to remain dedicated to the changes being made.
6: Failing to Communicate and Celebrate Key Milestones
Major change initiatives can take a long time to complete. However, excitement for a change initiative is often short-lived. To keep employees at all levels of the organization committed to the change, they need to have short-term milestones that they can achieve reasonably quickly.
Providing short-term goals based on concrete metrics gives employees a greater sense of accomplishment and control over the change initiative. These short-term goals also help keep the change initiative at the forefront of employees’ minds throughout the duration of the change by making it something they constantly work on.
These are just a few of the most common mistakes that organizations tend to make when carrying out a major change initiative. Need help with your company’s change initiative? OnPoint Consulting has years of experience in helping organizations meet their change objectives—plus considerable data on what works to help change initiatives succeed and what can cause them to fail.
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