Forbes Magazine recently published an online article, “15 Change Management Mistakes You're Probably Making” written by the Forbes Coaches Council. The article lists their take on the most common mistakes made by leaders and their insights on how to avoid them.
With over 35 years of experience in applying the AIM Change Management Methodology to complex changes in organizations around the world, we also know a thing or two about this topic.
The Forbes list was mostly accurate; leaders do make many of these mistakes. But, when it comes to prioritizing these issues and devising solutions to avoid them, we have a few thoughts.
Forbes’ List of Common Leadership Mistakes and IMA’s Responses
- Not Developing a Clear Communication Plan for Before, During and After Change
Our Response: According to the article, “Communication is the leading problem when it comes to moving employees through change.” We completely disagree that THIS is the #1 problem. Yes, having a clear Communication Plan is important, but it is not enough! If we could change behavior just by communicating more effectively, people wouldn't smoke and everyone would be at their ideal weight. Communication must be combined with the other core requirements of change management including a cascade of demonstrated Sponsorship (which is the real #1 priority), Target Readiness, and a Reinforcement Plan.
- Ignoring the Root Causes of Employee Resistance
Our Response: We agree that resistance to change is not due to “disengaged or difficult employees.” But, we would argue the root causes of resistance are actually quite predictable! Resistance is a function of disruption. The more a person thinks their current work habits and patterns will be disrupted, the more resistance you are going to see.
- Not Asking for or Incorporating Team Feedback
Our Response: We agree. Leaders need to be constantly seeking feedback on the real-time effects of the change. That’s why we say every Communication needs to offer a feedback loop. It’s an excellent way to gather data and make adjustments as necessary.
- Dictating Change, Rather Than Educating People About It
Our Response: Again, we disagree. Sometimes there are changes that just have to be done (for example, a safety or compliance change) and no amount of education will get people to like it. Change management is not just about educating people about the change. Just because people understand the rationale for the change, does not mean they will, in fact, change their own behavior.
- Inconsistent Leadership Involvement
Our Response: Inconsistent Sponsorship is, in fact, the #1 reason change initiatives fail (not #5). Sponsorship is both action and position. Anyone who has direct reports affected by the change is automatically a Sponsor. However, there are three very specific actions every Sponsor must demonstrate to drive the sustained adoption of a change. It is only when you have a cascade of Sponsors down and across the organization who are actively Expressing, Modeling and most importantly, Reinforcing, their public and private commitment will that change be successful.
- Oversimplifying the Change
Our Response: We agree. Change is excruciatingly complex, and should be treated as such. Project teams should be built with SME’s as well as with Change Agents who have the right relationships with the Sponsors and Targets, along with Change Agents with implementation expertise.
- Expecting Immediate Acceptance of Change
Our Response: Change management is not about acceptance. The goal is not to get people to like the change. It is about behavior change, and the only way to get to sustained behavior change is with the use of Reinforcement. If you don’t change the Reinforcement you won’t get the change. It’s just that simple.
- Downplaying the Impact of the Change
Our Response: Trust is paramount when it comes to change. Trust is not a warm and fuzzy issue. The more Targets of the change trust the leaders, the faster a change can be implemented. Downplaying or lying about the change will only generate a lack of trust, which can easily cause the project to slow down or completely stall out.
- Assuming Employees Know What to Do
Our Response: Building Target Readiness is an important part of change management. But, there are four requirements for Readiness…information, motivation, ability, and confidence. Targets of the change need all 4 in order to be ready to change their behavior.
- Failing to Actively Participate in the Change
Our Response: See our response to #5.
- Neglecting to Involve Those Impacted by the Change
Our Response: Involvement is one of the most powerful tools available to build Readiness. When used appropriately, involvement can help build commitment to the change, surface resistance, and produce better solutions for our investments.
- Not Communicating the Change in a way that Speaks to Your Team's Different Personalities
Our Response: We agree. All Communication must be translated into the Frame of Reference of the Targets. But remember, each Target group needs to be considered individually. All Communication must address the two most important questions from a Target’s point of view: “What’s in it for me?” and “What does it mean to me?” And needless to say, different Target groups will have different answers to those questions!
- Trying to Make a Big Change All at Once
Our Response: We agree that sometimes it is better to break down changes into smaller, more manageable steps. However, when it comes to transformational change where your organization will be doing different things in completely different ways, you cannot change incrementally. Think of it like this: you can’t cross an abyss in two jumps!
- Not Helping Others Envision the Possibilities
Our Response: Envisioning the possibilities is important so that people see what the “future state” is. The vision, however, needs to be translated into the Frame of Reference of the audience and answer the two critical questions outlined in #12. But remember, a single, top-down communication from “mahogany row” describing a wonderful vision of the future is not going to change someone’s behavior.
- Not Outlining and Supporting the Internal Transitional Steps
Our Response: Too often, leaders “express” support but fail to demonstrate that support in their daily decisions and actions. We often tell Change Agents that when a Sponsor "gives their support," that Agent actually has nothing at all! In our change management certification program, we provide 30 very clear and explicit behaviors a Sponsor must do on a daily basis. But, while leaders must express and model their commitment to the change, what they reinforce with their direct reports is actually three times as powerful as the other two!