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Common Practice Errors

Mistakes are normal and area part of learning, especially for change management.
Making a habit of mistakes are practice errors. Avoid them

Common Change Management Errors

Change management discipline was a response to high project failure rates where change was involved. Of course, all projects bring on some change.

Management science, seeking to solve for underperformance, isolates and determines change success or failure, and improves on it. Understand the levers and all that’s left is to lay hands on and manipulate them. Voila: change management.

Common practice

Change practice evolved naturally. Conclude that people are more willing to change if they are “bought in” and one will take steps to ensure it happens. Steps become techniques then lore. These include:

  • Silence creates anxiety, so fill that emptiness with information. Be transparent.
  • Prove the value and make the “case” for change. Provide the rationale.
  • Give people the data.
  • To persuade the recalcitrant, make it about what’s in it for them.
  • Employee response tracks to the source of information/call to action. Executives should carry one kind of message; supervisors/peers another.
  • Overcome residual resistance (objection) by continually first reminding of then reaffirming the case, the data, and what’s in it for them.

Project change best practice effectiveness (how well the change is accepted and sticks) improves with these and similar tactics—a little. But project change shortfalls persist… significantly, according to the data. Probably because these ongoing efforts just shift the point of failure.

Path of Change Management Practice Failure and Evolution

Failure to effectively change was once the fault of the employees that did not adapt their behaviour as expected.

After evolving past the bankrupt idea that employees should just do what they’re told, enlightened management found and accepted that employees, like customers, need to be persuaded. Some techniques drawn from persuasion arts were implemented and showed how the human part of change—behaviour or attitude shift—could indeed be affected.

Yet change acceptance remained stubbornly and widely suboptimal. Maybe the people being forced to change were not the only issue.

Management science retargeted the shortcoming to the organization not applying the techniques consistently or effectively. This shifted blame to the application method. As a response, carefully curated organization change models/frameworks including these persuasion techniques were invented. And where process compensates for skill shortfall, a method to apply techniques was quite successful… for a while.

Unrelenting suboptimal results suggested failure attributable to the individuals applying the new frameworks.

Change leaders were trained to correctly apply the frameworks, adding rigour to the domain of “getting people to change.” Standard processes were followed, common tools brought to bear. Despite it all, changes continue to fail. Less, but enough to make an argument not to pursue the next change initiative.

Before continuing, it’s important to realize and admit that significant changes in organizations are inherently improbable of success.

The next problem in the delivery chain

The common problem and next obvious fix is practical application of change leadership.

Change managers and the teams they assemble mostly know a common practice method and may be able to ascertain ascertain appropriate strategy. They may have the right tools, know the inputs, how their process should flow, and what outputs or deliverables ought to result. Some organizations provide support tools the change managers generally know how to wield.[1]

These people do not seem to know how to get started putting the models and tools into practice. They seem even less capable or aware of how to use all that to drive and plant changed behaviour. They seem too caught up doing the right things to focus on getting the right results. So they retreat to what they find comfortable and are, at the very least, reluctant to get started implementing their method.

To get started: start.

This is a practical application (and leadership gap that has two human aspects in the context of change management. Both are challenges.

  1. Untrained people.
  2. Trained people with theoretical understanding but limited (and often no) actual change experience.

The untrained present an easy solution. Train the people to reduce the size of problem #1. Problem #2 will inflate as a consequence. Of course, it is the greater concern… and now it’s bigger.

Trained but inexperienced change managers/leaders naturally fall back on the process theory they have been taught, if not on old comforts.[2] Moreover, trained but inexperienced people are often uncomfortable making decisions in ambiguous situations. They tend to freeze or frenzy.

  • Freeze doesn’t mean without action (though that’s possible). It can be reverting to the comfort of prescribed—even if misguided—action.
  • Frenzy is generally hyper-vigilant (over)application to clarify or assume away ambiguity.

Experienced (change) leaders apply the essence of technique without fixating on change practice methods and processes. They do not eschew their training. More likely, they have internalized the objectives and outcomes of actions and apply them without specific protocol or being thrown by unanticipated conditions.[3]

A common practice

A practical application gap is resolved only by practical application. In many trade and professional education programs, and when business was not so thinly resourced, practical application gaps were eliminated through apprenticeship. Building experience without a figurative second set of steady hands on the tiller is a problem: too much “live fire” learning… and errors.

A practical application gap could also be automated away. There are too many shortcomings to the approach to deal with here, particularly IF the organization is in an evolving environment.

Finally, though with practice the change leader may comfortably apply tools and techniques, (s)he does not work alone. (S)He will likely work with assigned team members new to the environment that must take on responsibility. Novices force the team, including the leader, backward toward basics if for no other reason than to “bring everyone along.” That encourages, if not compels a retreat to documented, shared process and method. Because, of course, intuition does not transfer by osmosis.



[1]   Those really taken by shiny buttons may develop strategic palettes, personas, journey maps, and many 2X2 matrices.

[2]   Trained, but inexperienced people often revert to working outside their training and method when confronted by challenges; also by more powerful others insisting on pursuing a suboptimal (outmoded) change management conception. These are different problems.

[3]   There are, of course, exceptions such as piloting or scuba diving. There, checklists and techniques are to be followed exactly to avoid the harsh outcome of overlooking a detail (i.e., death).

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