Why change management can fail

The eight main reasons for change management failure were too much complacency, absence of leadership, no vision, poor communication, fear of confrontation, no short term wins, ending too soon and ignoring the culture, Ms. Anne McMurray of CAWT, told the HMI Dublin North East Forum in Ardee, Maureen Browne reports.

The eight main reasons for change management failure were too much complacency, absence of leadership, no vision, poor communication, fear of confrontation, no short term wins, ending too soon and ignoring the culture,  Ms. Anne McMurray of CAWT, told the HMI Dublin North East Forum in Ardee.

Anne McMurray
Anne McMurray

She said change management remained the most critical management competency, as service delivery and cost reduction could not be achieved without successful change implementation.

The reasons for resistance to change included fear of loss, previous bad experiences,  the approach being taken, people not convinced they should embark on change, feelings of disempowerment, fear of failure, lack of confidence, peer pressure, attachment to the status quo, complacency, the idea that it was too complex and that management wanted it.

Ms. McMurray said there were three elements in communicating change – memorable messages, stories and call to action.

Clear, memorable, succinct messages were the foundation of a change campaign. The aim was to create a message that was emotionally compelling and easily repeated.

People remembered stories better than they did numbers or facts, so it was important to tell stories about why the change was important or that illustrated the benefits of changing.

For any campaign to be successful the audience needed to know what it could do, so you should be clear about the action you wanted your people to take and ways they could start immediately.

Firstly you could model the change – demonstrate the way you wanted things to change through your own language and behaviour.

There were also three ways to quietly promote change.  Firstly you could model the change – demonstrate the way you wanted things to change through your own language and behaviour.  Often seeing a leader do something first gave people the courage to try it themselves.

The second way was to turn negatives into positives. You should find ways to reframe people’s resistance as opportunities for change. This required that you listened carefully, understood the underlying reasons for the opposition and address them directly.

Thirdly, you should find allies. “Chances were someone else in the organisation wants the change as badly as you do.  Find that person and pool your resources and ideas.

“The requirements of leading change are a clear destination, a starting point and persistence.

“A clear destination – many change programmes fail because not everyone understands where they are headed. Be clear up front with everyone who needs to change about what the end point looks like.

“A starting point – big goals are intimidating and sometimes paralysing, Get started by taking small steps towards your goal.   Momentum will build.

“Persistence – most change efforts look like they will fail at some point, usually in the middle. Don’t give up prematurely. Find a way around obstacles, make necessary alterations and keep going.”

Ms. McMurray said that the ways to overcome barriers to change were to find another way in, befriend people closest to your resisters and go bottom up.

“If your change is rebuffed try another tactic. Find out what matters to the people whose support you need and shift the focus of the change to take their preferences and goals into account.

“Make friends with administrative assistants or other people who spend time with them. These relationships often yield useful information and help get your ideas heard.

“If senior management is resisting your idea, start from the bottom of the organisation and build grassroots support.  With enough backing, you may be able to convince leaders to reconsider.